News Roundup

Bighorn Sheep Release at Big Bend Ranch

CEMEX-EL CARMEN, Maderas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico


Winter 2010


In the late 1990s, the Mexican-based global cement company CEMEX recognized the great importance of the Carmen Mountains ecosystem and, with support of various nonprofit groups, Mexican government agencies and various other entities on both local and international levels, began a large scale restoration project for the land, the flora and the fauna. Today, CEMEX has under direct ownership and conservation agreements with private landowners over 200,000 hectares of land dedicated to the conservations of habitats and native wildlife. The project encompasses a vast area from the Rio Grande Corridor at the west Texas boundary, south into Coahuila nearly 100 miles, and contains habitats from low desert to over 2700m (>9600’) culminating here in a pine-fir forest in the Maderas del Carmen.

Desert Bighorn Sheep Restoration:

In former times, the desert bighorn was an integral part of the native wildlife found in the rugged desert mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert in northern Coahuila, Mexico, in the vast area known as the Sierra del Carmen-Maderas del Carmen. This area is located south of the Big Bend region and just across the Rio Grande from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (BGWMA). The extirpation of the desert bighorn from its historic range in northern Coahuila and western Texas was attributed to the loss of habitat, unregulated hunting, and transmission of diseases from domestic sheep and goats.

At the inception of the El Carmen Project, the desert bighorn was a priority species for restoration, and to accomplish this goal a 5,000-hectare (11,000-acre) breeding facility was constructed in the desert lowlands. The area contains typical desert bighorn habitat encircled by a high, predator-proof fence. The enclosure consists of a series of igneous rock peaks, rough ridges, small canyons, overhangs and outcrops with high rims which all interconnect to form an isolated desert mountain range. The main objective of the breeding facility, called a "criadero" in Spanish, is to provide a predator-free environment to encourage maximum bighorn production. Once numbers inside the criadero reached viable populations, surplus bighorns are used as brood stock for reintroduction efforts in adjacent areas of the Carmen Mountains, and in the future for other areas of historic habitat in northern Coahuila.

Beginning in November 2000, with subsequent captures in 2001 and 2002, 50 desert bighorns of all age classes were captured in Sonora, Mexico from several locations, including Isla Tiburon, and transported to El Carmen. Bighorns were radio collared and monitored to obtain data on diet, movement, mortality, lambing success, and other parameters. This original herd provided the foundation stock for the 200+ bighorns observed inside the criadero in September 2010. In 2004, an additional 30 bighorns were captured in Sonora and released in the wild at El Carmen.

The lambs born in the spring of 2005 represented the first wild born desert bighorns in the State of Coahuila, Mexico in many years. In 2009 we captured 30 additional bighorns from the criadero and released them into the wild with the existing population. December 2010 population estimates for the brood facility are 200+ bighorns of all age classes, and the wild population is estimated to be 40+. One tag was auctioned at the Wild Sheep Foundation meeting in Reno, Nevada for $70,000. This was the first tag for the state of Coahuila, Mexico and buyer Bernie Fiedeldey harvested an excellent ram in November 2010, for which we are awaiting the official score.

With good habitat, quality brood stock from Sonora, Mexico and consistent management, the restoration program has reached levels that allow for additional releases of surplus bighorns in the near future. One area that is very important is the large ecological corridor that connects northern Coahuila to western Texas.  This corridor, known in Mexico as Diablo Canyon, contains supreme quality bighorn habitat, is protected by CEMEX-El Carmen, and is a natural corridor for sheep movement across the Texas-Mexico border. It is also slated as El Carmen’s next release site for surplus bighorns. Populations of sheep from the BGWMA and El Carmen will one day mingle in this area on both sides of the border. This will insure genetic diversity for desert bighorns for many years, as well as establish satellite populations of bighorns that are necessary for continued expansion of bighorn herds.

The Maderas del Carmen, Ocampo, and Santa Elena Protected Areas in Mexico, and in the U.S.A. the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department properties and Big Bend National Park all form a vast amount of land under some type of conservation status.  The continued cooperative working relationship between CEMEX, TPWD, Texas Bighorn Society, and The Wild Sheep Foundation to manage desert bighorns on a transboundary level demonstrates how separate nations can work together to restore and protect wildlife habitat for many species, including desert bighorn sheep.

Bonnie McKinney, Wildlife Coordinator
CEMEX-El Carmen,  Coahuila, Mexico
CEMEX-Adams Ranch, Texas
Phone: U.S. Cell: 830 719 0857
Mexico El Carmen: 01152 815 030 7408