The strange case of the Oregon pronghorn that crossed the frozen Snake River continued Monday with Idaho Fish and Game’s announcement that they will let the animals continue to live in Payette for now.
Approximately 180 pronghorn, which usually aren’t found in Payette, crossed into Idaho in mid-January when the river was frozen. They split into several groups. Fifty were found dead after they consumed Japanese yew, one variety of the highly toxic landscaping shrubs that also killed deer and elk in the Treasure Valley this winter.
Two groups of pronghorn remain in Payette. One group of about 75 lingers around Kiwanis Park just east of the Payette River. Another 50 animals “apparently crossed the 6th Avenue Bridge” and roams agricultural lands on the west side of the Payette River, according to Fish and Game.
“We’ve received a number of calls from citizens concerned about the pronghorn, asking us to trap and move the animals to more suitable habitat,” Fish and Game wildlife manager Regan Berkley said in a press release. “We are equally concerned, but after weighing options, have determined that any effort to trap and move the animals might do more harm than good.”
The problem is that pronghorn experience a 20-25 percent mortality rate when captured in good condition, due to the stress of the event and injuries that occur, Fish and Game says. That rate might be higher if this group were trapped because of the condition they’re in.
“These animals have had a tough winter and remain in a weakened state,” Fish and Game wildlife veterinarian Mark Drew said in the release. “When you add to that a high rate of pregnancy among the does in the herd, the reasonable solution is to leave the animals alone. If we do ultimately decide to trap and move these pronghorn, we can expect mortality rates higher than 25 percent. Everyone needs to be ready for that.”
Fish and Game plans to re-evaluate the situation as the pronghorn get stronger.