Utah relocating bighorn sheep to bolster population

Several of Utah's Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep got a free helicopter ride as the state continues efforts to see the animal grow in number. Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

OGDEN, Utah – Several of Utah’s Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep recently got a free helicopter ride as the state continues efforts to see the animals grow in number.

Phil Douglass, wildlife conservation outreach manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says about 30 bighorns were relocated by air and road from Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake to the mountains near Oak City in central Utah.

He says the population on the island grew to a point that a sheep move was required.

“We know that there is carrying capacity for the island,” he points out. “And when it reaches that capacity, about 200 animals, then we start taking the surplus animals and we move them to other populations.”

Douglass says the 30 bighorns could multiply to more than 100 animals within five years.

He adds the mountains will provide nearly ideal terrain for the bighorn population to prosper.

He explains the region has steep, rocky areas where the bighorns can avoid predators such as mountain lions.

Douglass says the practice of relocating sheep has helped to restore the animals’ once-dwindling population.

“These nursery populations that we get from Antelope Island really have been beneficial and instrumental in re-establishing the range of wild sheep in Utah,” he says.

He adds the bighorn sheep has suffered most in terms of diminished population due to diseases contracted from domestic sheep.

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