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AZGFD continues to lead successful binational wildlife conservation efforts

Posted February 2, 2023

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) recently returned six Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) to Mexico as part of a binational effort to prevent the Sonoran pronghorn from becoming extinct.

Due to the species population decline, the Sonoran pronghorn was listed as endangered in the late 1960s by the precursor of what’s now known as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law that protects at-risk species and their habitats from extinction.

In the early 2000s, severe drought conditions almost decimated the species’ population. As a result, AZGFD partnered with other agencies to implement measures to halt the decline of the species. One of the management strategies included creating a semi-captive breeding program, spearheaded by AZGFD.

The breeding program was launched in 2004 when Mexico allowed AZGFD to take a few Sonoran pronghorns from Sonora and translocate them to the semi-captive breeding pen at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Arizona.

The success of the program was seen within two years, as several Sonoran pronghorn were released into their natural habitat in Arizona. Nearly 20 years after the inception of the program, Arizona’s Sonoran pronghorn population is estimated to be 456, which is considered a sustainable level.

“The road to delisting and full recovery is an ongoing process, but there is no doubt that past and present collaborative efforts have resulted in positive outcomes”, says Cynthia Soria, AZGFD’s international and borderlands wildlife specialist.

The Sonoran pronghorn’s range is exclusive to southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Nearly 20 years ago, AZGFD and the state of Sonora discussed the possibility of, eventually, Arizona returning the favor to Mexico by sending six Sonoran pronghorn back to Sonora; it was agreed that the option would only be explored once Arizona’s Sonoran pronghorn population recovered to sustainable levels.

In December 2022, the AZGFD along with multiple partner agencies, as part of the annual capture and release operations at the Cabeza Prieta semi-captive breeding pen, processed six Sonoran pronghorn, performed thorough medical evaluations on the animals and fitted them with GPS collars. They transported the animals to northern Sonora’s El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, where they remained in a holding pen until they successfully adapted to the environment.

On Jan. 10, 2023, representatives from AZGFD and Sonora’s Ecological and Sustainable Development Commission (CEDES), returned to El Pinacate to release the six Sonoran pronghorn back into the wild.

Agency partners: