During my first couple days at Fort Bliss, I had heard smatterings from Soldiers about a non-indigenous species of African antelope population that somehow inhabited the training grounds.
But no one really quite knew how the animals, known as the oryx, got there.
Many of the Soldiers told me different theories that they'd heard. Some told me that they didn't even believe these antelope-looking animals were out there.
But on my last day at the post, as I was hanging out with a bunch of artillerymen waiting to see an M109 Paladin test fire, one of the creatures appeared before us.
Here's the true story about how the animal arrived in the US, and what I saw that day:
The artillerymen, combat photographers, and I were waiting to watch the Paladin fire, when, suddenly...
An oryx appeared out of nowhere — like something out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
An Orynx Gazella at Etosha National Park, Namibia.
For about 15-20 minutes, the oryx stood about 20 yards away, periodically nibbling on foliage and curiously looking at us.
The oryx is an African antelope that is non-indigenous to the US. On average, oryx weigh about 450 pounds and stand about 4 feet tall (not including their 34-inch horns).
An Oryx near Wolfsnes, western Etosha National Park, Namibia. (Photo by Hans Hillewaert)
The Soldiers told me a number of different theories that they'd heard about how the animals arrived in the US.
One Soldier said that a film crew brought the oryx there to shoot a movie many years ago and simply left them out in the desert. Another Soldier said that he heard that an African king had gifted them to the US. But in reality, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish introduced 95 oryx to the area in the 1950s for large game hunters. Thousands now populate the region.
An Orynx Gazella drinking alongside six Helmeted guineafowl at Chudop waterhole in Etosha, Namibia.
But, being an non-indigenous species, the National Park Service is concerned about how the animals are affecting the local ecosystem, especially the nearby White Sands National Park. At one point, being a curious fellow, I crept up to the animal to get a better shot — but it wasn't having any of that. It stomped its hoof and took a couple charging steps towards me, which sent me running in the other direction, much to the Soldiers' amusement. Nor was the oryx scared of the Paladin. Even after the howitzer fired, sending a massive shockwave throughout the surrounding area, I saw it still hanging around.
M109A6 'Paladin' howitzer. (Photo by Capt. Alex Aquino)
Eventually, it meandered away, slowly fading into the sprawling desert landscape — and we never saw it again.