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31 March 2022 Comparing Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality of Different Translocation Release Methods for Desert Bighorn Sheep
Taylor S. Daily, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Louis A. Harveson, Warren C. Conway, Froylan Hernandez
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Abstract

Historically, desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana) were prevalent throughout the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. However, they were extirpated by the 1960s due to unregulated hunting, habitat loss, predation, and disease transmission from livestock. Restoration efforts have been successfully conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to increase population numbers of resident (i.e., animals that currently populate a region of interest) desert bighorn sheep at Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (BGWMA) through the use of translocations. Because there is a lack of knowledge on alternative release methods for large mammal translocations, our goals were to monitor cause-specific mortality and postrelease survival of desert bighorn sheep translocated during 2017. Survival estimates of desert bighorn sheep were compared amongst resident, hard-released, and soft-released individuals throughout the study. In winter 2017–2018, we radio-collared and released 30 resident (8 M, 22 F) and 70 within-state-translocated (36 M, 34 F) desert bighorn to BGWMA. Of the 70 translocated individuals, 28 (12 M, 16 F) were hard released (i.e., released immediately onto the landscape) and 42 (24 M, 18 F) were soft released (i.e., released into an enclosure before onto the landscape). Resident desert bighorn had the highest probability of survival over time (Ŝ = 0.83), followed by hard-released (Ŝ = 0.67) and then soft-released (Ŝ = 0.54) individuals. To date, 26 mortalities (13 M, 13 F) were recorded. Of those mortalities, 4 were residents (15%), 6 were hard released (23%), and 16 were soft released (62%). The soft release is thought to be a better strategy for translocating large mammals; however, in this study, it did not improve survival. Survival is potentially influenced by acclimation time and individual exit strategy from the soft-release pen, which should be managed for future restoration efforts. Incorporating a flushing-method exit strategy would aid in removing soft-released individuals from the high-fenced pen simultaneously and may increase survival estimates. This could potentially allow individuals to form larger groups when exiting the enclosure and entering the new habitat. The soft-release method is also more costly to implement, which could be challenging for wildlife managers.

© 2022
Taylor S. Daily, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Louis A. Harveson, Warren C. Conway, and Froylan Hernandez "Comparing Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality of Different Translocation Release Methods for Desert Bighorn Sheep," Western North American Naturalist 82(1), 94-106, (31 March 2022). https://doi.org/10.3398/064.082.0109
Received: 22 February 2021; Accepted: 3 September 2021; Published: 31 March 2022
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