Human-Wildlife Conflicts: Ungulates

California is home to many native ungulate species, including Tule elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn. They may be found in diverse habitats throughout the state that may include remote, rural, and residential areas. These animals may live in resident or migratory herds. Each unique species may have different habitat and resource needs to survive.

Ungulates provide many ecosystem services, such as nutrient or seed dispersal. They are an important part of the natural food chain and a primary prey source for predators. Ungulates face many conservation threats that may include habitat loss, poaching, and disease (e.g., Chronic Wasting Disease).

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California is home to 6 subspecies of deer (Odocoileus hemionus spp.): the California mule deer, Columbian black-tailed deer, Desert mule deer, Inyo mule deer, Rocky Mountain mule deer, Southern mule deer. Deer herds may be migratory or resident staying in one area year-round. Migrating herds travel between their summer range (high elevation) and winter range (low elevation) each year.

front view of deer with antlers

Deer diet may include grasses, plants, acorns, bark and buds. Deer may cause conflicts due to agricultural or property damage, public safety or health concerns due to vehicle-deer collisions as they crossroads or diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease. They may browse gardens, orchards or vineyards if “deer-proof” fencing or deterrents are not used. If fed, deer can also lose their fear of humans or attract predators.

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California is home to three sub-species of elk (Cervus canadensis spp.): the Roosevelt elk, Rocky Mountain elk, Tule elk. Tule and Roosevelt elk are native to the state. Rocky Mountain elk are a non-native species first introduced to California for game farming and hunting purposes in 1966.

Elk walking.

Elk establishes resident herds year-round and each species prefers specific habitat. Their diet can include grasses, forbs, plants, shrubs, trees (up to 6 feet), fungi, and aquatic vegetation. Elk may also feed on crops, orchards or vineyards. Elk may cause conflicts due to agricultural or property damage as they forage, public safety concerns as they crossroads, or health concerns due to disease such as bovine tuberculosis.

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There are two subspecies of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in California: Sierra Nevada bighorn (Ovis canadensis sierrae) and desert bighorn sheep (O. canadensis nelsoni). They are both listed as federal and state endangered or threatened species. Bighorn populations were severely reduced during the 19th and 20th centuries due to habitat loss, unregulated hunting, and respiratory disease spread by livestock.

three bighorn sheep standing on rocky ground

These animals are highly specialized to navigate steep cliffs and move up or down elevation based on food availability. Both rams (males) and ewes (females) have horns they use for defense, fighting, and scraping spines off cacti. They graze on grasses in the summer and browse on shrubs in the fall and winter. Potential conflict with bighorns may occur due to property damage (e.g. golf courses) or human health and safety concerns due to vehicle collisions, disease transmission, or direct competition with livestock for resources.

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Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) are endemic only to North America and once occurred throughout much of California. They are now primarily distributed in the northeast part of the state. Pronghorn, though commonly called pronghorn "antelope", are not a true species of antelope. Both bucks and does have horns - not antlers - that are shed each year. They are North America's fastest land animal reaching speeds up to 55 miles an hour.

pronghorn standing in grass

Pronghorn herds migrate each year between their summer and winter range. Their diet may include flowering plants, cacti, and grasses, and most of their water comes from plants that they eat. Pronghorn may cause conflicts due to property damage or animal welfare concerns if they become entangled in fencing or due to vehicle collisions while crossing roads.

Prevent Potential Conflicts

Wildlife Health Lab
1701 Nimbus Road Suite D, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 358-2790 |