Big horn sheep return to Catalina Mountains

Twenty-nine big horn sheep have a new home in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson.

The release was due to a partnership between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Big Horn Sheep Society. Twenty-five years ago these mountains were once packed with big horn sheep.

“The old-timers remember it well and do so with a gleam in their eye,” said Mark Hart, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Game of Fish.

And now thanks to these two departments new generations can see these animals back in their old home.

The sheep were captured near Yuma last weekend. Joe Sheehey with the Big Horn Sheep Society, explained why the project was so important.

“For years and years there wasn’t any sheep left in the Catalinas, nobody knows why, this effort is to reestablish that heard,” Sheehey said.

The release was early morning on Monday, the sheep were kept in a trailer prior to the release. The first set of sheet scattered almost immediately once the doors were lifted.

The trailer was then turned around and the doors opened to let the second batch out. As the rain poured down, none of the sheep exited the containers where they were sitting. The sheep had to be pulled out and then ran into the mountain.

“Game and fish is committed to restoring native species to their home ranges whenever possible and that includes non glamorous species such as Chiracahua leopard frogs and Gila trout in addition to charismatic ones like big horn sheep,” Hart said. “It’s what we do.”

All the sheep were outfitted with tags and electronic collars those collars send a series of four updates throughout the day to the Game and Fish Department so that they can collect research. The batteries usually last about two years, and once the batteries die, the collars simply fall off.