WSF: Bighorns Back on Utah’s Antelope Island
"This is what collaborative conservation looks like," explained Gray N. Thornton, President and CEO of the Wild Sheep Foundation. "Wild sheep enthusiasts from industry, national and state conservation groups, and state wildlife agencies all pulling on the same rope to get good work done."
Twenty-seven bighorn sheep were captured near Morenci, Arizona using helicopter netguns and darting. The sheep were then transported by horse trailers to Antelope Island for release. The wild sheep near Morenci were chosen for this relocation because of the high risk of vehicle collisions. In recent years more sheep living near Morenci began frequenting its urban areas with high traffic. Tranquilizer darting was used to capture those sheep that were closer to town.
Antelope Island is a natural paradise within the Great Salt Lake spanning 42 miles2. The island is home to a rich biodiversity of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, bison, mule deer, and now, once again bighorn sheep.
"More than 25 years ago, the State of Utah transplanted bighorn sheep onto Antelope Island”, explained Kevin Hurley, WSF's VP for Conservation. "For nearly two decades, Antelope Island was THE source herd for establishing several new bighorn herds in Utah.
In 2018 the island’s bighorn population suffered a pneumonia die-off, and what few animals remained were removed. After eliminating the risk of future disease transmission, UDWR stated its intent to reintroduce a healthy population of bighorn sheep back to Antelope Island.
“This transplant is a supplement to a transplant completed in 2020 and will significantly expand the bighorn sheep numbers on Antelope Island,” explained Travis Jenson president of UT WSF. “Antelope Island is the primary source or nursery herd for bighorn sheep in Utah. We anticipate looking to transplant out of this population to establish new herds in addition to supplementing existing herds in as little as two years!”