“Invasive Exotic.” That term is being used with greater frequency to describe non-indigenous animals and plants that often cause great problems for mankind and native wildlife. In the era of 24-hour news and instant information via Twitter, Facebook, blogging and other forms of social media, many things get blown out of proportion, especially in regards to the complexity of nature.
The truth is there are “invasive exotics” that have benefits, some of which are quite profound.
For starters some of the most important domestic animals are all from foreign lands. Horses, goats and cattle did not hail from the United States yet no one puts the invasive tag on them. There are no campaigns to eradicate Brahman cattle which originated from Africa’s wild zebu. Nor are there “Wanted!” posters showing quarter horses or Nubian goats, both of which are foreign imports. All of these animals compete with native wildlife, but they have obvious benefits for many, so no one categorizes them as a nuisance.
The nilgai antelope is a unique exotic that is restricted to a few counties in South Texas, mainly on properties of the King and Kennedy Ranches. These monstrous antelope can weigh up to 800 pounds, have some of the finest tasting meat in the animal kingdom, and make for incredible sporting opportunities. While they cause a few problems for ranchers in the region, they are for the most part considered a plus for the area. They are something that is only huntable in Texas and that gives the southern coastal regions a unique flavor.
Aoudad (Barbary sheep) are another welcome exotic. These were officially released into the Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle decades ago and have been stocked on hundreds of exotic ranches in the Hill Country and beyond. Aoudad will tear up deer feeders and could potentially outcompete native desert bighorn for food but they generally do less damage than domestic sheep and goats and they are highly embraced by the hunting community.
“The aoudad is one of the most majestic trophies to be found anywhere and these creatures are super challenging to hunt. They are definitely one of the top hunting experiences in Texas,” said TF&G Editor-At-Large Ted Nugent.
Aoudad flourish in the western two-thirds of the state and if an accurate population count could be held, we would probably be shocked by how many are actually out there. They are an extremely elusive creature.
Axis deer are also flourishing in the Hill Country with tens of thousands free-ranging in counties like Bexar, Medina, Uvalde, Kerr, Edwards and Bandera. These beautiful native Indian deer do indeed compete directly with whitetail but most hunters welcome them. If nilgai are some of the best wild meat out there, then the axis is tops. They are absolutely fine eating, and in my opinion, an axis buck is one of the most gorgeous trophy mounts a hunter can have in his or her collection.
The striped bass is a welcome exotic of the aquatic kind. These hard-fighting sportfish are native to the ocean and were imported from the East Coast into lakes like Toledo Bend and Lake Texoma.
“Stripers are one of the best sportfish to be found anywhere and I certainly consider them a welcome addition to Lake Texoma,” said longtime guide Bill Carey of Striper Express Guide Service.
“The fishing pressure keeps them in check and they are an important part of the fishing economy up here.”
Although a more subtle exotic, there is no question the Florida-strain largemouth bass has been a welcome addition. Officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) aggressively stocked them into lakes beginning nearly 40 years ago and the results have been astounding. The bass in Texas now are truly Texas-sized (via the Sunshine State), making our state arguably tops in overall quality of the bass fishery.
Speaking of bass, perhaps the ultimate bass habitat comes in the form of an invasive exotic: hydrilla.
TPWD’s Larry Hodge wrote a description of the hydrilla issue for their website that contains some fascinating information:
“In my opinion you have to take hydrilla on a case-by-case basis,” says TPWD’s Driscoll (who is Driscoll?).
“I have 15 counties in Southeast Texas, and I only have four or five lakes I wish had no hydrilla. They are all small, shallow, municipal water supply lakes and are 50 to 80 percent covered with hydrilla. We deem 20 to 35 percent coverage as ideal, because if it exceeds that, it provides too much habitat and cover for bass and forage fish. Access for anglers can become restricted. Forage fish have so many places to hide that predators such as bass can’t catch them. Even though forage fish are abundant, bass will be skinny.”
Another interesting fact about hydrilla is that lakes like Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn and many smaller east Texas impoundments have seriously fluctuating water levels. Most native aquatic vegetation cannot tolerate this but hydrilla can, leaving one to ponder what the Texas bass fishery would be like without it.
Mankind has altered the landscape of the Lone Star State in many ways and it seems that invasive exotics have caused some of the most profound changes. There is no question the fire ant has caused irreparable damage and does no good. Nor does common and giant salvinia, which are clogging waterways in East and South Texas, but there are those gray areas to consider.
Feral hogs are not native to the Lone Star State and cause all kinds of damage to agriculture, golf courses, and other resources, but they are an important part of the Texas hunting culture and economy nowadays. At the end of the day, we will never eliminate them and I have a feeling most hunters would not want to if they could.
Such is the complexity of invasive exotics.