MT. CARMEL JUNCTION — Due to overpopulation in and around Zion National Park, state biologists have been capturing desert bighorn sheep and releasing them into less populated areas since the early 1970s.
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Videocast by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News
Helicopter pilots captured bighorn sheep in the Barracks just outside of Zion National Park Sunday and then transported them a short distance to a group of state biologists to be examined and eventually relocated. They are weighed, measured, and their temperatures monitored. Blood samples are taken to be checked for disease, and nose and throat swabs are taken to be checked for bacteria. Most of the sheep will receive ear tags and tracking device collars for continued study.
With the high density of big horn sheep in the area, it’s imperative that biologists continue to take steps to regulate the population and keep it at a healthy level.
“We’ve had a pretty aggressive sheep transplant program in Utah,” bighorn sheep biologist Dustin Schaible said. “What we’re trying to do is reestablish them to other historic ranges where the sheep can have little contact with domestic livestock.”
The team of biologists began the sheep transplant program 2 days ago near Hildale, and brought their efforts to Mt. Carmel, located just outside Zion National Park, on Sunday morning.
Where the animals will end up is contingent on the amount of sheep captured through the Department of Natural Resources program. If they capture under 25, the sheep will be brought to Nokai Dome near the San Juan River. If they can catch more than that, the sheep will be brought to Beaver Dam Mountain near St. George. So far, 10 sheep have been captured from the Zion Barracks area, and biologists are hoping to get 15 more.
This capture and relocate program happens only once a year in this area. There will be additional captures made in northern Utah in February and January 2015, in which sheep will be transferred from Newfoundland to Oak Creek.
Hunting tag purchases provide the primary funds for the sheep transplant program.
Full Curl Society member Randy Johnson was present to support the project.
“The division and the biologists are doing an incredible job with the wild sheep, getting them re-established and growing population,” Johnson said. “We appreciate their hard work and efforts.”
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