Desert bighorn sheep translocated to Goldfield Mountains

MESA, Ariz. — The next time you’re out hiking or just meandering in the Goldfield Mountains, take a good look around.

If you’re lucky, maybe way up high on the crags, you’ll see one or more of the area’s newest residents taking a good look at you.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently translocated 14 adult desert bighorn sheep – four rams and 10 ewes – from a healthy population of the animals near Saguaro Lake in Game Management Unit 24B to the Goldfield Mountains, also in Unit 24B.

All 14 of the animals were given an identification ear tag and complete health evaluation before being released. A few were fitted with a GPS tracking collar to better monitor their movements in their new locale.

“The main purpose of this project was to capture several desert bighorn sheep from within Unit 24B and establish a subpopulation within their native range,” said Dustin Darveau, terrestrial wildlife specialist. “This is important for several reasons, one of which is if there ever were to be a disease outbreak, it would not have a devastating effect on the entire population.

“We’re excited because these animals that were captured were placed in excellent habitat that also features a couple of redeveloped water catchments that will help them to easily establish a foothold in their native range.”

The translocation was no small operation. From helicopter pilots, net gunners and muggers – the ones who jump from the helicopter and safely secure the animals on the ground – to dozens of support staff and volunteers, it was a long, hard, but satisfying day in an effort to enhance and conserve Arizona’s wildlife.

The project was a cooperative effort between the department and its partners: Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Mogollon Sporting Association, Tonto National Forest, and the Arizona State Land Department.

“We have heard so many comments about the professionalism and smooth implementation of this project,” Darveau said. “We can only take credit in the fact that everyone involved at every stage of this project made it so successful.”