Invasive Species...What are they and why are they a problem?
The spread of invasive species is recognized as one of the major factors contributing to ecosystem change and instability throughout the world. An invasive species is "a non-native species whose introduction does, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health" (Executive Order 13112, 1999). Invasive species include all taxa of organisms, ranging from microscopic insects to 100 pound sheep, and can invade any ecosystem, from river beds to lava fields. These species have the ability to displace or eradicate native species, alter fire regimes, damage infrastructure, and threaten human livelihoods. Invasive species are changing the iconic landscapes of our National Parks.
There are over 6,500 non-native invasive species that have been documented in national parks across the nation. For information on invasive plant species, visit our invasive plants section.
The African Oryx
Here at White Sands, there is only one invasive animal species—The African Oryx. A native of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, the oryx, or gemsbok (Oryx gazella), is a large antelope that was introduced to southern New Mexico by the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. It weighs up to 450 pounds and stands 47 inches tall at the shoulder, almost as tall as the roof of the average car. Both males and females have horns that average 34 inches long. Their brown coloring with distinctive black-and-white markings allows them to hide among desert shrubs.
Between 1969 and 1977, 93 oryx were released on White Sands Missile Range and the surrounding areas in an attempt to provide hunters with big game. Wild oryx were brought from the Kalahari Desert to an experimental range at Red Rock, New Mexico. Since federal law prohibits introducing animals from other countries into the wild, these first oryx were bred and the offspring obtained were released onto the missile range.
There are now about 3,000 animals in residence on the missile range. The oryx have done exceptionally well in part due to the fact that this area lacks any large predators that would naturally help control the population. In Africa, they would have been prey for lions and other predators. Here in the Tularosa Basin, coyotes and mountain lions are not effect at controlling numbers, allowing the oryx to breed without restriction. Annual hunts for the oryx began in 1974 and continue to this day to help control and stabilize the population.
Because the oryx is not native to this country, the National Park Service (NPS) is concerned about how this animal affects the native plants and animals of White Sands National Monument. In 1996, the NPS erected a 67-mile boundary fence to prevent the oryx from entering the monument.
For more detailed information, download our oryx brochure.