Are New Mexico's Imported Oryx a Threat to Mule Deer?

In a recent study, a high percentage of the African oryx in New Mexico--which were first introduced to the White Sands Missile Range in the late 1960s--tested positive for exposure to a new form of malignant catarrhal fever (MCF). What does this mean for the oryx now? Not much. They haven't exhibited any symptoms, and the disease could be a normal part of their biology. What could this mean for native deer populations in the future? A lot. It's not yet known whether the new form of MCF affects deer, but if a deer falls ill to other forms it usually dies within days. Oryx are already tough competition for mule deer, and the study has biologists concerned.

"There are damn few mule deer left in the White Sands Missile Range," says Louis Bender, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey/New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. "You have to look long and hard to find one."

The state hopes to reduce its population of 3,000 to 5,000 oryx and issues up to 2,000 tags in a year.

"About the only thing oryx die from is a bullet," says Pat Mathis, the southwest area game manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. --TYLER D. JOHNSON