If you’ve traveled through Alberta’s mountains, you may have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some of the 6,500 bighorn sheep that currently live outside of our national parks. Usually, these animals like to stick close to home – but 20 of them made an unlikely journey last month, all the way to northeast Nevada.
Occasionally, other jurisdictions need animals to re-establish populations of native species when they are affected by disease or disaster. When the State of Nevada asked the Alberta government for animals to re-establish a sheep population on the East Humboldt mountain range, we were happy to help – but before we could transfer the sheep, we had to catch them.
And that’s what ESRD and Nevada Department of Wildlife staff – along with volunteers from several wildlife organizations – ventured out to do on a cold day in February.
To capture the sheep, a large net was raised over a site frequented by bighorns and the animals were tempted underneath with hay. The sheep were friendly and inquisitive, so it didn’t take long for a sizeable group to venture under the net.
Once the net was dropped, staff and volunteers worked quickly to ensure the safety of the captured sheep. Hooves were secured to prevent injury and blindfolds were used to calm the sheep.
Sheep were then tested for disease and staff recorded health information, like weight and size.
Because the goal was to send Nevada a new sheep population that could reproduce, the final tally consisted mostly of pregnant females (ewes) with a few young males (rams).
Once the animals were loaded into an animal trailer, they were driven down to their new home, where they were successfully released. The sheep were fitted with tracking devices during processing, so staff will be able to keep tabs on them as they settle in.
This transfer gives scientists a rare opportunity to study how sheep populations adjust after relocation. Hopefully, what we learn will allow us to give these animals even better protection in the future.