An article from the Albuquerque Journal [URL=http://www.abqjournal.com/news/state/apsheep11-20-07.htm]
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Endangered Bighorn Sheep To Get New Radio Collars
By Susan Montoya Bryan/
Several dozen desert bighorn sheep in southern New Mexico will be outfitted this week with new radio collars, enabling biologists to continue monitoring the endangered species.
A helicopter crew armed with net guns and tranquilizers hopes to capture 72 sheep, fit them with new collars and release them back into the wild.
The crew will be working in six different mountain ranges, from the San Francisco Mountains near the New Mexico-Arizona border to the San Andres and Peloncillo ranges further south.
Elise Goldstein, a bighorn sheep biologist with the state Game and Fish Department, said similar efforts to recapture and collar sheep have been made only a couple of times, but nothing on the scale of this week's effort.
"It's a big deal and it's expensive, but I think when you go back and revisit history you'll see that if you lose touch with the species and can't monitor them then they often slip away,'' she said as she prepared to head south Tuesday. "Monitoring the sheep is a pretty critical piece of recovery.''
Desert bighorn sheep were once found in more than a dozen mountain ranges in central and southern New Mexico, but disease, drought and other factors left the species in poor shape. The state put the sheep on its endangered species list in 1980 and started a restoration program.
Now, there are an estimated 425 desert bighorn in New Mexico — 2 1/2 times more than the number recorded just six years ago.
And the radio collar project is evidence of the restoration program's success.
"We have this opportunity because the sheep are still around,'' Goldstein said, explaining that the collars usually outlast the sheep but now it appears to be the other way around.
One reason for the increase in population was a decision by state officials to allow wildlife managers to keep in check the number of mountain lions in sheep habitat. Goldstein said the predators at one point were responsible for more than four-fifths of known desert bighorn deaths.
Goldstein describes mountain lions as "beautiful, amazing animals,'' but had the state Game Commission not taken that step, she estimates the number of desert bighorn would have dropped to double digits by now.
The department's captive breeding facility in southwestern New Mexico and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in neighboring Arizona also have bolstered the numbers through relocation projects.
Goldstein said it's possible desert bighorn could be taken off New Mexico's endangered species list in the next couple of years.
"We just recently met the requirements for downlisting to threatened and we're not all that far away from meeting the requirements for delisting,'' she said. "We're feeling optimistic.''
As for the new collars, Goldstein said they will be important as biologists try to reach their goal of recovering the species.
A look at desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico
Here are some facts about desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico:
POPULATION_An estimated 425
STATUS_A fixture on New Mexico's endangered species list since 1980
RECOVERY_The state Game and Fish Department needs more than 500 desert bighorn, with three populations of at least 100 animals each, to remove the sheep from the endangered species list.
HISTORIC RANGE_Desert bighorn once roamed at least 14 mountain ranges in central and southern New Mexico
CURRENT RANGE_Desert bighorn are found only in a handful of mountain ranges, including the Fra Cristobal Mountains, the Ladrons, the San Franciscos, the San Andres and the Peloncillos.
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