The following story was submitted by member Angelo Baio.
Among the rich and diverse natural beauty of Arizona's landscape such as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, runs 6,000 rare desert Bighorn sheep, an iconic symbol of the American west. For reasons we still do not fully understand the Santa Catalina Mountains located south of Tucson lost its once vibrant heard of desert bighorn sheep with the last known confirmed sighting having been about twenty years ago.
As part of the Arizona Game & Fish Department's mandate to preserve its natural resources a project was devised to capture and relocate bighorn sheep from adjoining areas in an attempt to replenish and stabilize the population of this magnificent animal. The goal devised by biologists is to re-establish a herd of approximately one hundred animals, a number thought to be weighted in a direction to ward off the deleterious effects of natural mortality, predation and disease. The mountainous terrain sheep inhabit requires a helicopter capture method to be used. Although not a new alternative and also tried and tested by this department and others, is right out of the annals of the long ago television show Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins.
Highly skilled pilots skirt mountain tops and dive deep into canyons flushing out sheep that with little effort can run like the wind on narrow rock ledges and cover miles at speeds no man could ever catch on foot. Game managers hang outside precariously strapped to the open helicopter with one foot on a running board and their hands on a cannon net gun yelling directions to the pilot over the radio drowned out by the sound of the blades whipping just feet overhead. All in a race with the clock to subdue a sheep before the stress of the event pierces a threshold that could end its life.
Once captured a sheep is whisked away to a triage area hastily constructed in a dirt parking lot close to the capture locations where biologists and volunteers draw blood and tissue samples to assess herd health and administer necessary care. Sheep are then tagged and fitted with radio telemetry collars for later release in the Santa Catalina Mountain range where they are tracked 24/7 with hope and prayers that they will survive and prosper. All unknowing of the magnitude and weight on their shoulders to proliferate their kind.
Efforts as grand as this requires the cooperation of many walks of life, game mangers, veterinarians, biologists and the public. As a life member of the Wild Sheep Foundation, a public group of responsible hunters and conservationists, I am proud to be part of the gracious contribution of the foundation that donated tens of thousands of dollars and the expertise of volunteers and a sheep biologist to help Put and Keep Sheep on the Mountain.
I was asked to film this two year effort and had produced a one hour television special for the Sportsman channel that aired in 2014 and 15. I also produced a short film exhibit for the thousand of members attending the 2016 Wild Sheep Convention - Conservation Night held in Reno, Nevada January 22nd that is available for all to see who will not attend the show on Youtube: https://youtu.be/qwQWGpWli3Q
I have been in close contact with the lead game manager for the Arizona Game & Fish Commission Mr. Ben Brochu who tells me that the project is a resounding success. This was a wonderful experience and my hat is off to the Arizona Game & Fish Commission, the Wild Sheep Foundation (https://www.wildsheepfoundation.org/) , Meopta Sport Optics (http://www.meoptasportsoptics.com/us/), the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society and others.
Anyone wishing to support the Wild Sheep Foundation can do so through their web site or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.