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Reuters, November 20, 2014

Bighorn sheep back home on the range in Arizona mountains
By David Schwartz

(Reuters) - Fourteen bighorn sheep ambled out of a trailer into their new home in a southern Arizona mountain range on Thursday as part of an attempt to bring back an animal that disappeared from the landscape there in the 1990s, wildlife managers said.

The three rams and 11 ewes took to the hills after being released in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, with officials optimistic about bolstering an effort that began in the area late last year.

“They hit the ground running and headed in the right direction, even the ones in the back took off,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the state Game and Fish Department.

The 14 newcomers to the rocky terrain were relocated from a national forest northeast of Phoenix, corralled by nets tossed from helicopters and driven to the foothills of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness area.

Officials hope the herd will quickly meet up with a dozen of the 31 sheep that were dropped off in the area last November. Mountain lions were responsible for killing most of the sheep that died from the original herd, Hart said.

Over the past year, he said, wildlife officials have killed three of the mountain lions.

The relocation program is part of a larger effort to restore bighorn sheep in Arizona through a program that was decades in the making, Hart said.

He said there were an estimated 5,500 sheep in the state now, more than three times the amount recorded in 1957. About 2,000 sheep have been relocated under the effort.

Randy Serraglio, southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, watched the release and said he was optimistic about the program's success.

“It takes years to plan and implement a project like this, but when you look up on the ridge top in the dawn light and see the silhouette of a bighorn against the morning sky, it makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

Plans call for another 16 sheep to be released into the area on Friday, Hart said.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Paul Tait)

 

© Thomson Reuters 2014.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton