The Great Basin sagebrush steppe, and especially Elko County, have a large and diverse collection of native wildlife. However, we humans love to manipulate a landscape and we have introduced our own selection of wildlife. In most cases, these introductions were meant to enhance hunting opportunities.
Probably the most spectacular addition has been the Himalayan snowcock, also known as the snow partridge. These birds were imported from the mountains of Pakistan, where they live at elevations up to 20,000 feet. Here, they live at the very top of the Rubies.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife first transplanted 19 of these birds into the Ruby Mountains in 1963. Between 1965 and 1979, they released more birds into the wild. The Rubies and East Humboldt Range now contain approximately 500-600 birds. This is the only place in North America where they are found.
Probably no import has succeeded as well as the Chukar Partridge. First introduced into North America in 1893 from Karachi, India (now Pakistan), they now occupy dry sites across the West. Transplants into Nevada began in the 1920s. Elko County saw transplants in 1937 and 1949, often supplemented by birds raised in local bird farms. The chukar population rose to extremely high levels in the 1960s, but recent wildfires have reduced the chukar population.
Mountain goats seem like such a perfect fit for the high country of the Rubies, it is easy to forget they are not native. NDOW first introduced six from Washington State into Seitz Canyon in 1964 and six into Lamoille Canyon in 1967. In 1981, NDOW released 11 goats from the Olympic National Park into the East Humboldt Range. In 2007, there were over 400 goats in the Rubies. Today’s count is hard to come by since their population has been affected by a recent disease that moved through the Ruby’s bighorn sheep.
Before the arrival of Europeans, bighorn sheep were native to most of the mountains in Nevada. These native sheep were killed off through a combination of large-scale hunting, livestock competition, habitat loss and diseases introduced by livestock.
NDOW re-introduced 25 bighorns to the Ruby Mountains in 1990. These animals were Rocky Mountain bighorns from Alberta, Canada. The East Humboldts received 31 in 1992. In 2009, there were 130 bighorns in the Northern Rubies and 160 in the East Humboldts. However, that winter, a pneumonia-causing disease killed off 95-98% of the bighorns in the northern Ruby Mountains and East Humboldt Range. By 2012, only 12 sheep had survived the disease in the East Humboldts and NDOW removed these to the Ruby Mountains. In 2013, 17 ewes and three rams were brought in from Alberta, Canada to repopulate the East Humboldts.
Elk are native to Northeastern Nevada, although in small numbers before the arrival of Europeans. Re-introductions in the northern parts of Elko County started in the 1970s. Since then, large herds have spread across the county. The 2014 population estimate approaches 7,000 elk.
The re-introduction of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is taking place now. NDOW is bringing in birds from Idaho. Over three years, they have transferred 50 birds each year into the Bull Run Basin of northern Elko County.
Transplants of several game birds have taken place locally. Wild turkey introductions have been going on since 2000. Ruffed grouse were released into the Rubies in the 1950s. Gray (Hungarian) partridge and California quail were introduced in the early 1900s.
I need to include wild horses, since they are not native to this area. Technically called feral animals, the first wild horses were released by early ranchers. Huge numbers of wild horses now live in Northeastern Nevada.