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The Bighorns of Texas’ Elephant Mountain

THERE IS SOMETHING about Elephant Mountain that desert bighorn sheep love.

I have heard that over the years through conversations with biologists and various wildlife officials but not until I was at the top of the mountain at the aptly-named Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) did I understand.

Having just photographed a beautiful herd of desert bighorns thanks to Benny Benavidez with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) showing me around, I was in awe at the stunning landscape.

With the Chihuahuan desert to the south and the high desert grasslands I stood at the top of the mountain located south of Alpine.

The author photographed this herd of bighorns atop Elephant Mountain last year. This area is crucial for Texas’ very successful desert bighorn program.

According to TPWD officials, Elephant Mountain WMA consists of 23,147 acres within the Trans-Pecos Ecological Region of West Texas. 

“Elephant Mountain WMA was acquired through a private donation in 1985 for the purpose of conservation and development of desert bighorn and large game animals, wildlife-oriented research, and other compatible recreational uses including public hunting.”

The most prominent feature of the area is Elephant Mountain itself (6,225 feet above sea level) which according to TPWD extends from the northern to southern property boundaries.

“The large flat-topped mountain of igneous origin rises nearly 2,000 feet above the surrounding tableland. The top of the mountain covers over 2,200 acres and is not open to the public to prevent disturbance to the desert bighorn herd.”

Imagine a fertile plain rising out of the desert and that is essentially what the top of the WMA looks like. It’s perfect for wild sheep and in fact, they seemingly can’t get enough of it.

In the early 2000s, a herd of bighorns was captured at Elephant Mountain and translocated to Black Gap WMA which is about 50 miles away as a crow flies.

Many of those bighorns ended up back at Elephant Mountain.

Bighorns, however, aren’t the only big game residents.

According to TPWD”s Dewey Stockbridge, the area offers public draw mule deer hunts with the area harboring a good population of desert mule deer and javelina.

“We have a good population of mule deer and enjoy having hunters come out every year for the draw hunts,” Stockbridge said.

Hunters possessing an Annual Public Hunting Permit can access dove, quail, and rabbit hunting along with camping.

Wildlife enthusiasts know the area for its herpetological biodiversity with several species of rattlesnakes present including the rare (in Texas) and dangerous Mojave green.

“The biodiversity here is strong including the reptiles. It is definitely a special place,” Stockbridge said.

TPWD’s desert bighorn sheep program leader Froylan Hernandez said one of the great triumphs of the program is being able to move sheep from Elephant Mountain to other areas in Texas to diversify their current range.

“We no longer have to get sheep from other states and a big part of that is how productive  Elephant Mountain is for these animals. It is vital to our program along with the other Trans/Pecos WMAs.

—story by CHESTER MOORE

 

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