From the Colorado Division of Wildlife
-- Thirteen Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have a new home in the northern portion of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range following a successful transplant operation by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The Northern Sangres have been devoid of bighorn sheep since the 1980s, but with the population in the Southern Sangres thriving, the Division decided to reestablish Colorado's state animal to another part of its historic range.
The project, led by Brian Dreher, senior terrestrial biologist for the Southeast Region, presented a novel challenge.
"This is the first time we've moved sheep from one high alpine location to another," Dreher said. "We hope these first 13 animals are the beginning of new self-sustaining alpine herd sheep in good habitat were bighorn were once common."
During a two-day operation in mid-October, Colorado-based Quicksilver Air, Inc. captured three rams, nine ewes and a lamb at elevations between 12,000 and 13,000 feet above sea level in the mountains southeast of Crestone. The bighorns were airlifted to a central processing station on the valley floor where veterinarians took DNA and blood samples, gave each animal a thorough medical exam and recorded data. The sheep were also fitted with radio telemetry tracking collars and ear tags.
Once the animals were processed, DOW crews used trailers to truck the sheep to the upper end of the San Luis Valley. From that point, the helicopter airlifted the sheep again to their new alpine home north of Hunts Lake.
Dreher said the bighorns will be monitored monthly from fixed-wing aircraft for several years to evaluate survival, reproduction and distribution.
More information about bighorn sheep and the DOW's bighorn conservation program can be found here.