Scientists are only just starting to recognize the scale of this incredible annual Wyoming mule deer migration between the Red Desert and Jackson, Wyoming.
Researchers from the University of Wyoming have been using helicopters to capture Wyoming mule deer recently in order to help them learn more about their seasonal migration patterns.
After bringing the captured mule deer to a field research station, the researchers weigh the deer, take blood and hair samples for DNA study, pull a tooth for age determination, take a fecal sample taken to determine their diet, and fit the deer with a GPS collar for tracking purposes.
Once all of the tests are complete, which takes just a few minutes, the deer are released, probably feeling like they were just abducted by aliens.
However, all of the data gained from capturing these mule deer is vital for researchers and wildlife biologists to better understand the migration patterns of these mule deer.
It has only been recently that wildlife biologists discovered the true scale of a mule deer migration path, known as the Red Desert-to-Hoback migration, which is the longest land migration for any mammal in the Continental United States.
According to Steve Sharkey, the director of the Knobloch Family Foundation:
Data creates opportunities to do things that didn’t exist before.
Twice a year, these mule deer make the 150-mile trip between the Red Desert and the mountains south of Jackson, Wyoming. Using data gained by these wildlife researchers, conservation groups were able to identify and start preserving the migration path of these deer.
For instance, researchers identified a bottleneck near Fremont Lake, where the migration path is especially narrow. In order to prevent this land from being developed, the Conservation Fund is now in the process of purchasing and preserving this land, thus ensuring that the mule deer can continue to use it in the future.
In the future, conservation groups are hoping that data gained from research projects like this one will help change land management practices and put a higher value on protecting migration routes. If they are successful, those efforts could benefit not only Wyoming mule deer, but elk and pronghorn as well.
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