Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep moved to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep released into Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Yosemite Conservancy/Steve Bumgardner)

Several state and federal agencies worked together to move a total of 19 Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep to the Cathedral Range in Yosemite National Park and the Laurel Creek area of Sequoia National Park. They will attempt to move another three rams on Monday -- for a total of 22 sheep.

The sheep were moved from the Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park in an effort to repopulate areas that historically had high numbers of sheep.

Video of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep being captured

The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is the only federally endangered mammal in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. It was listed as endangered in the year 2000 after the population plunged to about 100 sheep. The population has since increased to over 600 -- marking an important milestone towards their recovery, officials say.

Yosemite officials said the latest chapter in the sheep's recovery effort involved capturing the animals, assessing their health and safety, and fitting them with a radio collar to track their moments over the next several years.

The newly released bighorn sheep are expected to thrive in their new homes because both of these historically occupied areas have superb summer habitat with adequate forage, are close enough to other Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep to provide the potential for connectivity among herds, and are far enough from most domestic sheep grazing areas to provide a buffer from potential disease transmission.

Video of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep being released

"This is a legacy event for Yosemite National Park and the bighorn sheep," said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. "Additionally, this is one of the Signature Centennial projects for the National Park Service and we are ecstatic to see bighorn sheep in the Cathedral Range for the first time in more than 100 years."

"With this week's reintroductions, we now have bighorn distributed throughout all geographic areas identified as critical habitat in the Recovery Plan," said Tom Stephenson, leader of the Recovery Program with CDFW.

The project was funded by Yosemite Conservancy, Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation , and the Wild Sheep Foundation.

"Bighorn sheep are a true symbol of wilderness and represent the need to protect wild lands," said Frank Dean, Yosemite Conservancy President. "With the reintroduction, visitors will experience a wilderness similar to that found in the days of John Muir, when large alpine wildlife was abundant."

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are well known for their large size, strength, and ability to negotiate precipitous terrain. Adult males, called rams, stand over three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 220 pounds; females, called ewes, weigh up to 155 pounds. Both rams and ewes have permanent horns; rams' horns are massive and coiled, whereas ewes' horns are shorter with less curvature. Bighorn sheep display a range of body coloration, from dark brown to almost white, and have a large white rump patch and a short, dark tail. Rams live to be 10 to 12 years old, and ewes live to be 12 to 17 years old. During breeding season (rut), bighorn rams compete for their right to mate with ewes. Dominance behavior includes kicking, butting, neck wrestling, and dramatic horn clashes that sound like thunder. Breeding generally takes place in November. Starting at two years old, ewes give birth to one lamb between late April and mid-June. Mothers typically wean their lambs by five months of age. The lambs become independent of their mothers when they are about one year old.

All video and images contributed by Yosemite Conservancy
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scienceendangered speciesyosemite national parkYosemite National ParkSequoia National Park
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