Kingman, AZ – Arizona Game and Fish biologists and several volunteers waited patiently as the doors to a bighorn sheep transport were pulled open.
At first the bighorn sheep were a bit reluctant, but after the first one took off in a gallop to begin exploring its new home, the others were quick to follow, leaping from the transport and bolting for the hillside.
Such was the scene during the most recent supplemental transplant conducted by Game and Fish at Peoples Canyon (also known as Peeples Canyon) in Unit 16A where 20 bighorn sheep, captured on the Navajo Nation in southeast Utah, were released.
While a small population of bighorn sheep exists in the area just west of U.S. Highway 93 near Bagdad, Ariz., this transplant is expected to boost both the numbers and genetic diversity within the herd.
The influx of bighorn sheep into the area was composed of 15 ewes and five rams. All were fitted with ear tags and half were fitted with GPS collars for monitoring. The collars will provide information on movement throughout the range, and mortality information, if any mortalities occur.
“This translocation project is part of a continuing collaboration between the Navajo Nation and Arizona Game and Fish for wildlife management both on the Navajo Nation and in Arizona,” said Brian Wakeling, Game and Fish game branch chief.
Wakeling explained an additional 22 bighorn sheep were captured on the Navajo Nation: three for the Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park, and 19 radio-tagged and released for study within the Upper San Juan River basin.
To aid in the recovery of desert bighorn sheep in the area, the Game and Fish Commission has authorized a multiple bag limit and use of artificial light for mountain lions in the southern portion of Unit 16A so hunters can assist with the recovery of the translocated bighorns.
With a robust mountain lion population in the area, the goal will be to minimize the influence of predation.
“The commission believes the new regulations will benefit bighorn sheep and allow this re-established population to grow and allow for suitable recruitment to restore this historical population for future generations to enjoy,” said Commission Chair Robbie Woodhouse.
Such measures in regards to mountain lions are in place in the southern portions of Unit 18B where bighorn sheep were reintroduced in 2006 and received a supplemental transplant in 2007.
Funding for the translocation was raised by the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society through the sale of special big game license tags, with the Game and Fish Department handling and overseeing the capture, transport, and release of the bighorn sheep.
For more information about bighorn sheep and projects like this, visit the Game and Fish website at www.azgfd.gov.