Captive breeding is a wildlife management tool of last resort, and it's not an action any wildlife manager chooses lightly or often. It can be difficult, expensive, and rife with risk. But when so few animals are left, we and our conservation partners must do whatever it takes to prevent extinction.
That's why we've developed the captive-breeding program for the Sonoran pronghorn.
It began over the winter of 2003-2004 when seven of the remaining animals were captured and placed in a specially constructed, one-square-mile pen on Cabeza Prieta Refuge.
In the captive-breeding pen, one carefully selected buck breeds with all of the herd's does. Breeding bucks are rotated to ensure as much genetic diversity as possible.
Jim Atkinson has been the Sonoran pronghorn recovery coordinator since 2008.
In the future, Atkinson said, breeding bucks may be brought in from one of the Mexican populations "to mix up the genetics and ensure the population stays robust."
A Sonoran Pronghorn doe. (Photo: USFWS)
But, he added, "We're not going to be in the captive-breeding business forever. The whole goal of our efforts right now is to put a floor under this herd and keep it from cratering again and again. For now, we can focus on restoring the herd and stabilizing it for the long haul." Other habitat enhancement efforts are essential elements of a broader effort to recover the pronghorn.