Exotics have reached Texas from every corner of the earth. Ranchers and conservationists have been importing exotic game species to Texas since the early 1930s. The first documented transplantation took place at the King Ranch when they introduced Nilgai antelope between 1930 and 1941. Since then exotics have exploded onto the landscape around Texas and beyond.
WHAT IS AN EXOTIC?
Ex·ot·ic (ig-zot-ik), adj. “…medium to large sized non-indigenous or non-native mammals (and birds) that landowners have introduced onto Texas ranches and properties in either a confined or free-ranging status. Most of the common species of exotic mammals currently found on Texas ranches fall under one of the following three major scientific families: Cervidae (deer), Bovidae (cattle and antelope) and Equidae (horses and zebras).”
Although exotics are not distributed statewide, several species have become prominent in certain regions. The most popular are species of deer, antelope, and sheep. Most of the successful free-ranging exotic species in Texas come from the Asian continent. Axis deer, nilgai antelope, and blackbuck antelope were originally from India; the sika deer was imported from Southeast Asia. The mouflon sheep was from Sardinia and Corsica, the fallow deer from Asia Minor and southern Europe, and the European wild swine from Europe. The aoudad sheep was brought to Texas from North Africa.
Texans have acquired exotics to observe for pleasure, to substitute for extirpated native big game, to increase the variety of game for hunting and to increase production and income from rangelands. Exotics are not protected by the regulations that cover native game animals, and they are hunted at the prerogative of the landowner. Exceptions are the axis deer in Bexar and Kendall counties and aoudad sheep in counties contiguous to Palo Duro Canyon, where they are under state game regulations.
Perhaps the earliest releases of exotics were of nilgai antelope acquired by the King Ranch between 1930 and 1941 from the San Diego Zoo and stocked on the ranch’s South Texas rangelands. During the same decade blackbuck antelope and axis (also called chital and spotted) deer, sika deer, and sambar deer were released. From the late 1930s through the 1950s mouflon sheep, eland antelope, red deer, swamp deer (barasingha), and other species were released.
Today, more species and greater numbers of exotic big game are in Texas than anywhere else in North America. The first statewide census of exotics by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1963 found thirteen species and 13,000 animals. The 1984 survey revealed about seventy-five species and 120,000 animals. Some species, such as the nilgai, are probably more numerous in Texas than they now are in their native habitats.
Exotics are found in about half of the 254 Texas counties; 55 percent are concentrated in the Edwards Plateau. South Texas has 18 percent, and most of the remaining animals are localized in areas of North, central East, and far West Texas. About 70 percent are confined on pastures by game-proof fences. The remaining 30 percent range free. The most numerous species have developed substantial free-ranging populations.
Generally, though Texas exotics have fared well and ecological complications have been few, even successful free-ranging populations have occasionally had difficulty with their Texas habitat. A major need is proper control of their numbers where prolific free-ranging populations exist. Favorable economic methods of control are to harvest them by sport hunting and for meat. Exotic meat for human food is gaining attention in Texas, and exotic game dishes are becoming popular in restaurants. In Texas large numbers of exotics are firmly established, the concern now is understanding their ecological roles and practicing sound management.
The numbers of many species brought to the U.S. have actually grown and surpassed the populations now found on their native home ranges. Much of this can be contributed to climate, habitat, and available space. A temperate or semi-arid, almost year ’round climate in Texas, creates an atmosphere much like that of Africa or India.
Exotics seem to have found their niche and don’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.