Bighorn sheep transplant program working

By all accounts Arizona Game and Fish's attempt to reintroduce Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in West Clear Creek is a success.

In November 2005, Game and Fish transplanted 29 sheep from a herd located west of Clifton-Morenci to Maverick Basin below the Mogollon Rim. In November 2006 they transplanted another 31.

"We are pretty much were we expected to be," said Brian Wakeling, a big game management supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish and the man heading up the transplant project.

According to Wakeling most of the herd is staying in place, However there have been some notable exceptions.

"We had one go down to Sunset Point and a couple that kicked around over by Fossil Creek for a while. Probably the most famous ones were two rams that went over to the Village of Oak Creek for a little bit," said Wakeling.

The two young rams that went to VOC gained their notoriety after one of them saw its reflection in a resident's patio door and proceeded to break out the glass panel.

That animal later wandered all the way to McNary in the White Mountains where it was killed by an automobile.

"Despite the fact we have had a few wanderers, by and large most of the radio tagged animal we put in there are staying close to their release point," said Wakeling.

In addition to the good news that the herd is staying put there have been only two animals confirmed to have died.

The other one died in a remote area of West Clear Creek Canyon. Neither the sheep nor its radio collar has ever been recovered.

There have also been no sign of mountain lion attacks on the herd according to Wakeling.

Game and Fish is planning to bring in another 30 sheep this November for the final transplant.

As for any new lambs, Wakeling said there are reports of young sheep and lambs.

"We have yet to get in there and take a survey, but there are reports of young sheep within the population," said Wakeling.

Game and Fish is also looking into other sites, most of which are along the Mogollon Rim, to expand the program.

"We believe have the nucleus of a viable herd," said Wakeling, "Ultimately we would like to see that population get up to a point where we could implement a hunt up there. But it will be a few years before we will get any rams in the older age classes."

Arizona Game and Fish estimates there are approximately 700 rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the state along with another 5,500 of their cousins, the desert bighorn sheep.

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