LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
When we think migration or migratory animals, we think ducks, geese, or far off mammals of the African plains. Whatever we think, the native ungulates of North America don’t often come to mind. However, a team of scientists have recently announced that such a migration exists, hidden under our noses and in our backyards this entire time. As deer populations of both whitetail and mule deer decline across the country, this new study could shed some much needed light on the otherwise darkened days we deer hunters fear to be facing in the near future.
The team of scientists working from both the University of Wyoming and the consulting firm Western Ecosystems Technology, accidently discovered that a small herd of Wyoming mule deer are traveling some 150 miles between winter ranges in the Red Desert and summer ranges in the Hoback Basin. To capture the incredible migration, the team enlisted the help of famed National Geographic photographer Joe Riis. To convey the story each deer told, Riis placed high definition cameras at pinch points and man-made obstacles along the migration’s path. The incredible video captured the great difficulty these deer encountered as man-made structures including fences, highways, and reservoirs stand in their way. Even more interesting, the footage captures an endless supply of vocalizations at each obstacle, revealing the great extent of communication that exists within this and probably every deer herd in North America.
These new studies should not go unnoticed as roughly 90% of the ungulate population in the state of Wyoming is migratory. These include mule and whitetail deer, elk, big horn sheep, moose, mountain goats, and bison. As the scientists have pointed out in this and other studies, if these migration corridors were to be cut off, an entire herd could be decimated.
It is the hope of these scientists to spread the word. Utilizing the footage captured by Riis, they hope to raise awareness on both the federal and private levels. Federal funding does exist which can ease the man-made tensions along the route by adding gates to fences only to be opened at certain times of the year, and underpasses for the deer to cross larger highways.
Wouldn’t you want it done for your deer herd? For more information visit their website at migrationinitiative.org.