Thursday, May 27, 2010
Having eaten them, we wanted very much to see the "wild" Texas longhorns that roam Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. Like the wild horses on the Theodore Roosevelt NWR in North Dakota, these cattle are introduced, and they're being maintained there to "save the breed." Cattle resembling longhorns were probably introduced to North America from Spain in 1493. By the 1600's, domestic breeds from the British Isles and Europe supplanted the longhorn. In 1927, as the Texas longhorn faced extinction as a breed, cattle enthusiasts from the U.S. Forest Service brought a herd to the Wichita Mountains NWR, where the animals thrived. Longhorns have a number of desirable traits, primary among them being intelligence, adaptability, great beauty, and low birth weight, which means they are easy calvers. Whether having a bunch of domestic cattle using rangeland that once belonged to the now-extinct Merriam's elk and the once-extirpated but now-replaced American bison is the thing to do is a bit of a question.
The Merriam's elk has been replaced on the 59,000-acre refuge by introduced Rocky Mountain elk, and the bison have been reintroduced as well.
Note the fenceline behind the bison. It was hard to get a photo without fencing here. A surpassingly beautiful place, but what's with all the fencing?
So all the hoofed stock here has the hand of man in its presence and its management. Maybe the whitetails have always been here. Or maybe they were reintroduced, too.
What to say about it all? That nothing's as it once was, that nothing's pristine? That cattle aren't wildlife and don't belong on a wildlife refuge? That all our wildlife refuges have been twiddled with and tweaked and manipulated in some way?
Yes, that's a fenceline behind the doe.
I was filled with conflicting feelings as I gazed on these undeniably beautiful cattle. Looking at them, I see something ancient, something that goes back to drawings on cave walls. This is a superbly adapted bovid, probably three times smarter than your average Angus: a survival machine. Tim Ryan told me they're even more dangerous than the bison. We stayed in the car.
Gorgeous things. Their colors and patterns enchanted me.
However you feel about longhorns as wildlife, however you split the hairs of what belongs and what doesn't on public land, the longhorns don't care. They're breeding and sparring and bossing each other around and they are beautiful.
This old blue bull saw us pull up next to one of his many wives and her calf, and decided to do something about it.
What are you doing so close to those tourists?
Move along, and take your little girl with you.
Mama, Daddy, and Baby makes pee.
What's wild? What's native? How long do you have to be here to be a native? Is nearly six centuries long enough?
Or should a wildlife refuge belong to wildlife?