Desert Bighorn Sheep from Mexico to Buck Up New Mexico Herd

Desert bighorn sheep from Mexico have been released in southern New Mexico in an effort to boost the gene pool of a herd at the Red Rock Wildlife Area.

The state Game and Fish Department says the 10 rams were quarantined for months to make sure they were healthy before being released. They'll join a herd that began at Red Rock in the 1970s.

"It's nice to see that they all survived and they're doing really well," bighorn sheep biologist Elise Goldstein said in a statement. "They're feisty and I think they're going to be some good sturdy rams to add to the stock."

Department officials say they're excited to see years of collaboration and wildlife roundups come to fruition. Over the next decade, the department expects offspring from the Mexican rams to augment desert bighorn populations across the state.

Once widespread across the western United States, Canada and Mexico—and an object of worship for some Native American tribes—bighorn sheep saw their population decimated when settlers pushed west. By 1900, only several thousand of them were left. 

But they made a comeback, particularly in Arizona, where their survival was a pet cause of noted conservationist Major Frederick Russell Burnham, also known as "The Father of Scouting."

Through school poster contests and other efforts, he got the Boy Scouts involved in their rescue. Today, the Desert Bighorn Sheep is the Arizona Boy Scouts' official mascot.

In New Mexico, the sheep were once one of state's most imperiled native species—fewer than 70 animals were thought to exist in 1980. But today the desert bighorn population has grown to about 565 in several mountain ranges. Officials are considering a recommendation to remove desert bighorn from the state's endangered species list.

New Mexico received the rams in exchange for pronghorn antelope that were moved to three wildlife management areas in Mexico over the last two years.

Public hearings on the recommendation to delist desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana) from the New Mexico threatened and endangered species list are set to take place September 6.

With reporting by The Associated Press.

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