Oh, give me a home
Where the great kudus roam
And the oryx and ibexes play...
Before long western hunters may be singing folk songs like this around their campfires in the rugged Canadian River country of New Mexico. The state game department is well along on a program of stocking the steep canyons thereabouts, which are too rough for deer or antelope to play or even live in, with nimble aoudad, or Barbary sheep. The adjacent plains will be the home of fleet gemsbok, fast desert creatures that can go for long periods without water, and in the mountains there are to be strong-necked kudu, with their spectacular corkscrew horns, wary, light-footed ibex, and other exotic game less well known to U.S. hunters than to the solvers of crossword puzzles.
In 1950 New Mexico released 57 aoudad in the Canadian River wilderness. Their native range is in the mountains near the Barbary Coast of North Africa, rocky and desolate country, drier than the Southwest, where the only hunters who take after them are desert tribesmen. Protected in New Mexico, they multiplied. Now there is a thriving population of New Mexican aoudad, numbering in excess of one thousand. Last year the state issued 400 permits to aoudad hunters—the largest public hunt of an exotic animal in the U.S.
The exotic game program, however, has not developed without discouraging words. In fact, discouraging words about "them blamed foreign critters" have been rolling around New Mexico as thick as tumbleweeds. There are discouraging words in the form of derisive newspaper editorials, complaints about cost from ranchers and politicians and criticism from sportsmen and biologists. The complaints continued in the mid-'50s when thousands of chukar partridges were imported from India and Turkey at about $6 a bird. They grew louder two years ago when Dr. Frank Hibben, a professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico and an enthusiastic big-game hunter, was appointed chairman of the game commission. Widely traveled, Dr. Hibben had been a safari companion of Tom Bolack, then the state's Republican lieutenant governor, and Hibben had positive ideas on what exotic animals he wanted to import and where he wanted to search for them.
He hunted first for the Nubian ibex, a kind of desert goat native to the Red Sea hills and to remote parts of Ethiopia. The Nubian ibex is small, weighing only around 110 pounds, but with highly prized fluted rocking-chair-shaped horns that reach a length of almost four feet. Dr. Hibben found the Nubian ibex almost extinct in the Red Sea hills, and too difficult to obtain in Ethiopia, but in the course of several trips to Africa and the Middle East he acquired other species. He went on to southwest Africa last June to purchase a herd of gemsbok, a very fleet member of the oryx family whose home on the hot dry plains is in a climate much like that of southwestern New Mexico. There he ordered eight gemsbok at $1,200 a piece. When he saw that kudu were also available he ordered eight of them at $1,500 apiece. The Nubian ibex still eluded him, but a Hamburg wild-animal dealer offered the game department six Siberian ibex for $800 each. The Siberian ibex is far larger than the African or the alpine varieties, with horns measuring nearly five feet. Four of these were delivered to the city zoo at Albuquerque last fall, and two more are due to arrive soon.
A few ranchers grumbled that $800 was a lot to pay for a goat. A Santa Fe newspaper editorialized that an ibex, despite its monumental horns, was still a goat, and if it could be induced to "graze on the beer cans and used Kleenex which blossom in our woodland recreation areas...the game department may have a bigger bargain than it thinks." Then, last fall, a Democratic slate was elected. When the bill for the eight kudu reached the state board of finance just after the election, the outgoing members turned it down because kudu had never been authorized. Usually at his first press conference after his election a New Mexican governor is asked pertinent questions on matters involving grave statesmanship, such as which jobholders are going to get the ax. But this time Governor Jack Campbell was asked questions about the oryx and the kudu. "I don't know how far we have gone in committing monies for the importation of these game animals from abroad," he said, "but I think it is something we ought to look at carefully." An ardent fisherman, he then moved on to firmer footing by enthusiastically supporting the stocking of streams.
This was interpreted as doom for the exotic animal program, but Dr. Hibben remained optimistic. "The whole exotic game program will cost us peanuts," he said. "It will be nothing compared to what we spend on our prairie chickens. And even if only one of these animals takes hold, we'll have a new and challenging species for big-game hunters. A new section of the state will profit from hunting. And besides, everyone will have a lot of fun." At its next meeting the finance board decided to let the game department spend its funds on the kudu. Governor Campbell has not endorsed the program officially, but he reappointed Dr. Hibben to the game commission.
In the background was New Mexico's long struggle with its chukar partridge program. In the years before Dr. Hibben's appointment, New Mexico released 11,300 chukars from India and, when these didn't thrive, tried 13,400 from the slightly cooler areas of Turkey. A few of the latter seem to be breeding in the northwest corner of the state, but their future is in doubt, and after an expenditure of more than $122,000 the state may never have a chukar season.
Four years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended francolins from India as being more suitable. They are a hardy bird that can endure a temperature range from 15 to 120� Fahrenheit. They can live in areas with as little as eight inches of rainfall a year.
The francolins, very wild and shy birds, were trapped last year in India on a Monday and released in the arid southern areas of New Mexico four days later. Some have been held in the state bird farm for reproduction, but game men feel that one reason for the failure of the chukar program was that the birds became too tame at the farm to thrive on their own when they were released. New Mexico now has the gray francolin, and also a black variety that lives along the banks of irrigation ditches.