29 Desert Bighorn Sheep Released at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Dec. 23, 2010 — Update: An updated version of this news release is available at http://archive.tpwd.texas.gov/newsmedia/releases/?req=20101223a.

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov

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ALPINE – Twenty-nine desert bighorn sheep bolted out of transport trailers and straight up into the Bofecillos Mountains along the Rio Grande at about 3 p.m. today. The 24 ewes and five rams were captured by helicopter at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area this morning and moved to Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Cheers and applause broke out among the crowd of about 80 people witnessing the sheep release, many of whom had been working toward this moment for years. It’s the latest phase of a multi-partner wildlife restoration project begun in 1954, and the first bighorn reintroduction at a Texas state park.

From dawn til about 1:30 p.m., helicopter service Quicksilver Air made multiple trips around Elephant Mountain. The private contractor hired by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department captured sheep on the run using a net gun, slung them in bags below the flying copter, and expertly returned them to the wildlife management area headquarters and lowered them safely to the earth without landing.

Ground crews then carried the blindfolded sheep to check-in stations where veterinarians took blood samples and wildlife biologists fitted the sheep with radio tracking collars before loading them in trailers to await the journey to Big Bend Ranch.

Biologists were concerned because of unseasonably warm weather, and check-in crews continually monitored each sheep’s temperature this morning, spraying water on the animals to keep them cool. But, except for a short delay caused by a blowout that required a quick tire change on the sheep trailer carrying the five rams, the operation unfolded in textbook fashion, and all sheep arrived safely at their new home.

The sheep were released about 20 miles west of Lajitas on FM 170, the river road, near Panther Canyon. Within minutes the sheep had bounded up the rocky mountains into the state park and were soon visible only as small gray-white dots winding up to the summits.

The sheep were moved from Elephant Mountain WMA for several reasons. Because of the success of restoration efforts in recent years, the area had a surplus of animals that needed to be removed to maintain a balance with the available habitat, providing a source population to restore sheep to their historic range elsewhere in Texas. Big Bend Ranch contains quality sheep habitat, and restoring them at the park will restore the native wildlife ecology and provide an outstanding new visitor wildlife viewing opportunity.

The following day, TPWD and its partners intend to move approximately 10 more bighorn sheep from Elephant Mountain, completing the initial release at Big Bend Ranch.

For background information on this story, see the Bighorn Sheep Release at Big Bend Ranch news roundup of online resources on the TPWD website, which includes the Dec. 17 story “Texas Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration Hits New Milestone.”

NEWS PHOTOS of the sheep capture and release are accessible as downloadable high-resolution .jpg files from the news roundup page.

VIDEO will be available on TPWD’s official YouTube Channel. Broadcast quality video for news use will also be made available via the department’s FTP site.

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