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Bighorn Sheep

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Canyonlands National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Canyonlands National Park Bighorn Sheep Desert bighorn sheep roam some of the most inhospitable land in canyon country. Their diet consists of the same spiny shrubs that scrape the shins of hikers. Once feared to be nearing extinction, the desert bighorn is making a tentative comeback in southeast Utah due to reintroduction efforts by the National Park Service. With one of the few remaining native herds, Canyonlands has been a vital source of animals for this program. A Story of Survival Accounts from early explorers tell us that more than two million desert bighorn once roamed the southwest. By the late 1800s however, bighorn sheep had disappeared or declined in many areas. Bighorn sheep are extremely vulnerable to diseases from livestock. Domestic sheep introduced pathogens like scabies (an ear mite) and anthrax (a bacterial disease), and herd after herd of wild sheep were decimated. Early explorers, settlers, and trophy hunters also killed bighorns. Increased competition with domesticated cattle and sheep for food didn’t help the situation. In 1975, Utah’s population numbered around 1,000 sheep. When Canyonlands was established in 1964, there were approximately 100 bighorn sheep remaining in the park. To protect these animals, in the 1970s the park phased out grazing allotments within park boundaries. The Bureau of Land Management, whose lands border the park, limited grazing leases to cattle only, which lessened the risk of exposure to disease from domestic sheep – probably the most important step in preserving bighorn populations. In the early 1980s, biologists began relocating sheep from the growing population in Canyonlands in order to establish new herds. Since sheep are poor dispersers, this is the only way to return them to their historic ranges. To accomplish this, park staff captured sheep in nets fired from helicopters, then staff assess the sheep's health and age and transport suitable animals to a relocation area. Since the program began, sheep have been reestablished in Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Sheep relocated to the San Rafael Swell west of Canyonlands have created two herds totaling more than 600 animals. Today, the bighorn population in Utah is estimated at 3,000 animals. There are roughly 350 sheep in Canyonlands, with separate herds in each of the districts. Though restoration efforts appear to be working, increased human activity and development continue to threaten the desert bighorn sheep. For the remaining herds to survive, intensive management and conservation measures may be necessary. The protection of undeveloped land and wilderness areas is key to the species’ survival. Canyonlands will continue to play a large role in this effort. If you see a bighorn sheep, please complete the form on the other side of this page. Bighorn Sheep Observation Form By recording your observations on this form, you’ll be helping scientists study the effects of human–bighorn interactions on range utilization and travel routes. Your Name: _________________________ Phone:____________________ Park or Area:______________________ Date:____________ Time:______________ Your location (be specific): ___________________________________ Location of Bighorn: ______________________________________________________________________________ Details of terrian on which bighorn were sighted: Rocky slope (lower, middle or upper?) Cliff base River edge Approximate distance to the animal(s):_____________________________ Number of sheep (please estimate age using diagram at the bottom of the page): Number of Ewes:_________ Ages: __________ Number of Rams: _______ Ages: __________ Unknown Sex: __________ Of these, ______ were lambs Total number in this observation:___________ Were you (and your group): In a vehicle Walking In camp Other On a motorcycle On a mountain bike In a boat What was the reaction of the bighorn to your presence? None Continued lying down Walked away Continued feeding Ran away Watched you Noted your presence then resumed activity (please describe below) Other __________________________________________________________________________________ Please note any ailments you noticed: Coughing Loose Hair Nasal Discharge Lethargic Other___________________________________________________________________________________ Other Information: ______________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________________________________ Completed Forms Please leave completed forms at a visitor center, or mail to: Chief Division of Resource Management 2282 SW Resource Blvd. Moab, UT 84532 MALE (RAM) AGE IN YEARS 8 to 16 6 to 8 EXPERIENCE YOUR AMERICA 3.5 to 6 FEMALE (EWE) 2.5 1.5 1.5 LAMB 0.5

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