About the Wichitas

Mount Scott

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Armadillo
Armadillo

Tiger Swallowtail
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Mountain Lion
Mountain Lion

Black-tailed Jack Rabbit
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit

Bob Cat
Bob Cat

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl Chick

Painted Butterfly
Painted Butterfly

Butterfly Weed
Butterfly Weed

Desert Cotton Tail
Desert Cotton Tail

Elk
Rocky Mountain Elk

Buffalo Herd
Buffalo Herd

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Wildlife in the Wichita Mountians

The Wichita Mountains have become a safe haven for wildlife species both common and rare. Approximately 60,000 acres within the range were set aside as a national refuge. Many of the species that are protected there can be seen off the refuge in the surrounding area. This winter we have had a drought and giant elk can be seen in the mornings foraging in the vast fields between the refuge and the city of Cache. My parents live on a ten acre track of land about 5 miles away from the refuge and both elk and coyotes frequent their small orchard.

When the time comes that the elk are shedding velvet, they rub their antlers on my father's fruit trees and sometimes cause a bit of damage. My father was not ever happy about it and would proceed to try to scare them off his property. It was pretty clear that the elk did not consider him a threat. They would ignore him for the most part and then leave the property when they were ready, leaping over the barb-wired fence from a standing position as if it was nothing at all. Believe me you cannot tell how big the elk are by looking at images. I've seen them many times and I still experience a shock at their shear size whenever I chance to meet one up close.

Buffalo

The Buffalo had been reduced in number from over 60 million to less than 600individuals by the year 1900 due to the buffalo hunters and land settlers. At that time there were no more bison in the Wichita Mountain Range and by 1905 it was recognized that they would soon become extinct all over the continent if they were not protected. In 1907 fifteen bison were donated to what was then the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve. They were shipped by rail to the town of Cache where they were transferred to wagons and taken to the Wichitas. Comanche Chief Quanah Parker was there to see the buffalo returned to the mountain range. That must have been a very happy day. Today the herd is maintained at around 600 animals. This is the number that the refuge can support in balance with the other species.

The buffalo are counted every year after the calving season and then in October they are rounded up and the animals to be sold at auction are cut from the herd. The annual Bison Auction is held the fourth Thursday of October and it is very exciting. You can't appreciate how big and how wild these creatures are any place else, because you can get right next to them. Oh, they smell too.

Elk

The Merriam Elk were indigenous to the Wichita Mountains until they were exterminated in the late 1800's. In 1911 and 1912, a total of twenty Rocky Mountain Elk were reintroduced to the refuge. They have been so successful that no more transplants were necessary. Today the herd numbers around 800 individuals, all decendents of the orginal twenty.

The Texas Longhorn was nearly bred out existence through extensive crossbreeding by the early 1900's. The longhorns are considered a part of the American West history and thanks to the efforts of our Refuge Rangers a small herd was established in the Wichita Forest and Game Preserve. This is the only species that was introduced to the area that was not native to the area. The herd is kept small so as not to upset the natural balance that is necessary for a healthy environment.

White-tail Deer

The White-Tailed Deer survived the excess hunting and the species there today are descended from the indigenous native stock. The refuge keeps a herd of about 450 head. There is an annual White-tailed Deer hunt to keep the numbers at a healthy ratio that was determined by available forage and needs for a healthy gene pool. To apply for the hunt, please contact the Refuge Headquarters.

The deer are usually easy to find in the morning while they are grazing on the refuge. Like the elk, they can be seen in the surrounding area. They don't jump the fences as easily as the elk but they manage. They are more shy than the elk, at least when it comes to getting them to leave your property, so you need to be quiet and move slowly if you want to watch them for long or take pictures.

The vegetative management of the refuge is handeld by these four species, Buffalo, Elk, White-Tailed Deer and Texas Longhorn, for the most part. Keeping these herds at numbers that promote a healthy eco-system is a basic job of the Refuge Staff. Annual hunts and Auctions are utilized to help them reach and maintain their goals.

Prairie Dogs

There have been at least six colonies of Blacktail Prairie Dogs on the refuge. Their true home is on the prairie and of course most of their native lands have been transformed by civilisation. They live in large colonies called Towns and they keep the grass around their burrows cut short so that they can watch over the surrounding country side. They are very entertaining to watch in their towns, because they have an obvious pecking order and they spend a lot of time sitting up and watching for predators. If they see something suspicious they sound their high pitched bark, which gave them their name, and then everybody sits up, looks and has their say about it too. They are highly social animals and will work together to fight off predators like Badgers and snakes of all kinds. If you visit the Prairie Dog town in the late Spring or early Summer you will see lots of tiny babies playing and learning the town rules.

Great Plains Skink

There are plenty of other mammals on the refuge. You can run across Opossums, Armadillos, Racoons, Ringtails, Beavers, Skunks, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, Badgers, Red and Gray foxes, Red Wolves, Coyotes, Gophers, Squirrels, Jackrabbits, Cottontails, and several species of bats, to name a very few.

There are at least 240 species of birds on the refuge, from the common sparrows to the rare Black-capped Vireo. You can see Eagles(Bald and Golden) during the winter months (an Eagle Tour is held in February) and there are plenty of hawks, falcons and buzzards to be seen. Our strong population of predator and raptor birds is a sure sign of a healthy environment. There is enough for them to thrive here so that you cannot drive to a neighboring city without spotting at least a few along the way.

Of the predator birds, the Red-Tailed hawk is my favorite. This is a large hawk with lovely coloring. When I volunteered with the Humane Society of Lawton as a child, I helped with an orphaned Red-Tailed Hawk chick. We raised it, taught it to hunt and then released him when he was about a year old. That was a very rewarding experience which influenced the beginning of my interest in the Refuge and wildlife in general.

I know that Burrowing Owls are somewhere on the refuge. My brother took an injured one to the refuge several years ago. Since then the species has been reintroduced. If anyone knows more about where to see them, please email me.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

There are plenty of perching birds, including our state bird the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. There are also plenty of Water Fowl, Wild Turkeys, Quail, Woodpeckers, Swifts and Swallows, to name a few. The rare Black-Capped Vireo is protected here. Use the link below to download a species list for the area.

You'll also find an interesting and diverse number of Reptiles and Amphibians on the refuge, from the fear inducing Copperhead and Diamondback rattlesnake to skinks, turtles, tortoises and Horned Lizards.

Button Bush

The Prairie Grasses are a very precious resource. Once they covered our continent's mid-section from Canada to Mexico. Now they survive in small, protected pockets like our Refuge. Much of the prairie wildlife is dependent upon this rich, and rare resource. If you visit the Mountains, take care not to harm anything, don't leave any marks that testify to your passing and don't pick up anything. Try to leave the Refuge as you found it. Our descendents will appreciate it tomorrow and all the living beings who have found a safe haven there will appreciate it today.

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