Gabby the Aoudad
Scott and I were thinking about going to the movies one evening back in August, 2016, when the phone rang. I heard him ask "How old is it?" followed by a couple of mmm-hmm's ending with an "OK, we'll be right there." Our neighbors had been listening to the cries of a baby Aoudad near their house for three days and their hearts were about to burst so they had decided to give us a call.
Knowing that the young animal had been crying for three days, we expected to find a babe near death. The little Barbary Sheep looked bright-eyed but was very thin; more than six inches of umbilical cord was still attached. "How did she survive without its Mom?" we all wondered, "Did she get enough colostrum?"
Not knowing whether we were setting ourselves up for heartbreak if it died or insanity if it survived, with the baby Aoudad in my arms, Scott and I headed home.
We presented a bottle of goat milk replacer to the baby Aoudad. It took a few tries, but eventually she caught on—and then she drank and she drank. Her little tail twirled with delight. With a tummy full of milk she made cute little sighing noises transmitting content. She snuggled up to me and slept soundly right up until the moment, about every two hours, that she jumped straight up on all four feet and announced it was time for another bottle.
We named our baby Aoudad Gabby and soon discovered that raising an Aoudad in the house is quite an undertaking. Besides the obvious issues (like the fact that Aoudads can’t be litter trained), Aoudads can jump—really high. They can hurdle recliners. They jump from chair to chair. Quite often it sounded like someone with high heels was galloping across our laminate floors. Gabby, our baby Aoudad, treated our living room like a mountain. The couch was merely a stepping stone to the kitchen counter.
It was only natural as Gabby grew that we began spending more time outside. Our Old English Sheepdog, Daisy, put her natural herding instincts to good use making sure Gabby stayed out of trouble and didn’t wander too far from the house. The pair ran, romped and even rested together.
It was bright and sunny the fall morning when we led Gabby into one of our alpaca pens. The introductions went smoothly. All of the animals demonstrated a friendly curiosity toward each other and the alpacas seemed to recognize that Gabby was young and needed some “special” attention.
Letting the alpacas tend to Gabby was easy during the day. But after the sun went down and the temperature began to drop I began to worry. “Will she be warm enough?” I fretted. After watching me stew, Scott grabbed a flashlight and invited me to walk with him out to the alpaca pen.
The entire barnyard was quiet and still. The air was a bit crisp and quite cool. Scott shined the flashlight around the alpaca pen and we located the alpacas all cushed together in their three-sided shelter. There was no sign of Gabby.
Suddenly, as the light of the flashlight made another sweep across the front of the shelter, a little head popped up from the very back of the group. It was Gabby! The alpacas had settled her into the warmest spot in their home. The little Aoudad had nestled in perfectly with our big-hearted camelids. Whatever it was about Gabby that made me instantly love her seemed to have infected the alpacas, too.
I silently began to worry about Gabby when she was about six months old. Physically, she was in good health. Her little tummy was round, her muscles were firm, her coat was beautiful, and her horns were sharp. Emotionally, she appeared “happy”--if there is such a thing for Aoudads. She still appreciated getting her chin rubbed or head scratched, but not like she used to when her eyes closed and her entire little body leaned toward me as if our connection was the most comfortable place on Earth.
Gabby’s connection with the other animals at Wassermann Wranch wasn’t as stable, either. Those little horns made each of our four dogs yip at least once. The Alpacas put up with Gabby's grain-grabbing appetite--or maybe they, too, were afraid of those pokey little horns
As I watched Gabby run and jump through the yard I found myself wondering whether she felt the call of the wild Aoudads nearby. I wondered if she was ever lonely. I wondered if she’d stay at Wassermann Wranch. The thought of Gabby leaving reminded me to be fully present during each of those moments—moments that kept stretching farther and farther apart--when Gabby closed her eyes and leaned toward my outstretched hand.
It is now June, 2018. Gabby no longer seems content in the alpaca pen at Wassermann Wranch. While she will still occasionally let me pet her, Gabby’s desire to interact with humans is running low. During a chance meeting with Brandt Buchanan, a conservation biology student at Sul Ross State University, Scott mentioned that it might be time to release Gabby. Brandt, who was familiar with Gabby because he had visited Wassermann Wranch, immediately made inquiries for us about the feasibility of releasing Gabby back to the wild after spending more than 18 months in our care. It was Brandt who introduced us to the staff at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.
Scott and I have been so appreciative of the way the CDRI staff thoughtfully considered the idea of releasing our young Barbary Sheep on the CDRI premises to (hopefully) join the herd that already roams the area. They’ve been considerate of our emotional attachment while maintaining an objective decision-making attitude about what would be best for Gabby and the CDRI.
The staff has fielded concerns from those who would prefer not to add another animal to the area. Aoudad are not native to Texas. They were introduced in the 60’s and now compete with cattle for valuable forage and may even challenge the native Big Horn Sheep. We are grateful the CDRI staff made the decision to accept Gabby. Native or not, Aoudad are part of Far West Texas. The experience of raising Gabby has been a joy. To Scott and me, this plan appears the most amenable for all. Gabby will be able to be a real Aoudad in an area where she is least likely to be a nuisance to ranchers as there is plenty of land to graze at the Institute.
We will load Gabby into our livestock trailer early Sunday morning and make the trip to CDRI. We have placed a white tag in her left ear. The number “100” is on the front of the tag and a big red peace sign is on the back. We hope it will be a signal to humans who encounter Gabby--just in case she steps closer than a “normal” Aoudad would.
Our hope is that our arrival Sunday will coincide with the daily routine of the Aoudad herd that grazes through the CDRI property every morning. Ideally we will park the truck, open the trailer door, and Gabby will step out into a grand Aoudad life; a life filled with plenty of grass for grazing, mountains to climb, and others to be with—creatures just like her.
You were first introduced to Gabby, the Aoudad, in last month’s CDRI newsletter where you read that our attempt to integrate Gabby with the herd at CDRI was not successful. Here is the rest of Gabby’s story.
After releasing Gabby at CDRI that Sunday morning in June, Scott and I were exiting through the main gate when a tire on our trailer went flat. Scott pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 118 and went to work changing the tire while I stood in the bed of the truck looking through binoculars trying to catch a glimpse of Gabby. I focused the lenses just in time to see Gabby take two giant leaps in the right direction. She was headed toward the Aoudad herd we had spotted just over the hill. Despite the fact that I was blubbering like a mama who’d just left a grown child at college for the first time, I was thrilled to have witnessed Gabby leaping in the air. It soothed me and made me feel that everything would be alright.
The staff at CDRI promised to keep us informed of “Gabby sightings.” Three days went by and we hadn’t heard a peep so we assumed that Gabby had found the herd and was off doing Aoudad things. Then came day number four when Gabby spotted some hikers and followed them back to the Nature Center and once she found the “two-leggeds” Gabby seemed determined to remain with them.
Gabby loves anything with an engine: Car, truck, or tractor—she is drawn like a magnet and will be on it or IN it if she can find a way.
Gabby on board a tractor at Wassermann Wranch
Staff witnessed this first hand as they stood on the porch of the Visitor’s Center yelling at guests to “Close the car door!” They had to shoo Gabby away from the doors and windows of the building after she stood on her hind feet attempting to peer through the windows. Eventually the decision was made to close CDRI for the day. Gabby was just too friendly and inquisitive, and her horns were just too sharp.
Scott and I drove to CDRI and loaded Gabby back into our trailer without a struggle. When we arrived home, she leaped out of the trailer and trotted back into her pen to join the boy alpacas she’d known since she was just a wee babe. As Scott and I did chores that evening we both chuckled at the thought that Gabby had been gone just long enough to have possibly come home pregnant!
While waiting for Scott and I to arrive that afternoon after closing CDRI because of Gabby’s intrusion at the Nature Center, Lisa Gordon, CDRI Executive Director, started reaching out to help find a place that would better suit our Aoudad’s needs. One of her contacts at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center reached out to one of their neighbors, Jim Berry at Pony Creek Ranch. Jim was willing to take Gabby!
Jim described his private ranch, which is full of exotics that roam freely and are not hunted. One of the animals, a twelve year old barren Aoudad named Lilly, is frequently found hanging out by their pool. Lilly sounded like a perfect friend for our Gabby.
On Monday, July 23rd, Scott and I loaded Gabby into our trailer one more time and headed toward Pony Creek Ranch which is near Glen Rose, Texas. Triple digit heat greeted us during the trip which lasted over seven hours. We made good time and arrived at Pony Creek Ranch at half past two in the afternoon. The first order of business was letting Gabby out of the trailer. As we were doing so, Lilly greeted us—along with about 15 friendly whitetail deer. Our usually vivacious little Aoudad seemed a little intimidated. She didn’t even want to try the corn that Jim was handing out to all the animals that surrounded us.
Jim was anxious to show us around, and we thought Gabby would stay near the ranch headquarters with all the other animals, so off we went in an ATV with Jim as our tour guide. We saw two varieties of Zebras…
…Watusi, Elk, a rare Somalian Ass, Przewalski’s Horse, Ostriches, and a wide variety of antelope and deer that all came toward us when they heard the ATV approach. It was likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get so incredibly close to these amazing animals.
When we returned to Pony Creek headquarters Gabby was nowhere to be seen. Scott and I called for her and shook the bucket of sweet feed we had brought with us. No Gabby, no chance for a real goodbye. As Scott and I traveled the ranch road back toward the highway, he could tell I was feeling uneasy. He summed the situation up like this: Maybe Gabby had given us a gift by wandering off the way she did. It would have been difficult to watch her walk away from us—and even worse if she had decided to run after us as we pulled away.
Gabby is the first animal I experienced as a bottle-baby. It was such a sweet experience to bond with her that way. She entertained hundreds of Wassermann Wranch visitors by jumping on picnic tables when she was a baby and showing her black tongue to the kids. I know that our pen could not contain the energy of an Aoudad and that re-homing her was the right thing to do. We would have never forged a relationship with CDRI or experienced the wonders of Pony Creek Ranch if it weren’t for the gift of Gabby… the little orphaned Aoudad.
Gabby at Pony Creek Ranch