Gould's Turkey Transplants
by Tom Foust
Rather than depending on birds imported directly from Mexico, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists are looking closer to home in their efforts to reestablish the Gould's turkey in southeastern Arizona.

After two less-than-successful attempts to introduce Gould's trapped in Mexico in 1994 and 1997, Game and Fish has started working with a flock of birds in the Huachuca Mountains, near Sierra Vista.

The Huachuca birds are the descendents of Mexican Gould's introduced on Fort Huachuca in 1983 and 1987.

Game and Fish trapped three gobblers near Sierra Vista recently and moved them to the Galiuro Mountains, 28 miles northwest of Willcox. Seven hens were also captured and relocated from the Huachuca population.

Ron Engel-Wilson, Game and Fish small game supervisor, said that if this latest transplant is successful, more birds will be relocated from the Huachucas next year.

The Gould's is the largest of the five subspecies of wild turkeys in the United States. Although they are plentiful in Mexico, they have generally been absent from historic habitat in southeastern Arizona for more than a century.

Biologists don't believe that any of the 21 birds transported to the Galiuros in 1994 survived. They are confident, however, that three of the 48 radio-collared birds released in 1997 made it.

"We think we got some reproduction from the 1997 release, so there may be more than that in the area," Engel-Wilson said. Biologists believe that the poor survival rate was mainly the result of stress from the more than 300-mile trip from Mexico and red-tape delays in getting the birds across the border. Some of the birds had to be held in cages for as long as 48 hours.

It is hoped that the much shorter travel time between the Huachucas and the Galiuros will improve survival. The similar habitats in the two mountain ranges could also be a major factor.

Questionable genetics caused biologists to shy away from the Huachuca flock until now. It was feared the Huachuca Gould's may have mixed with Merriam's turkeys that exist in Arizona's higher elevations.

After examining and doing DNA tests on 18 birds, Game and Fish research biologist Bryan Wakeling says he's confident the Huachuca turkeys are pure Gould's.

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