“The surprise of spotting strong and healthy bighorn sheep is part of the Zion visitor experience—an experience we want to share with generations of visitors yet to come.” Said Mark Preiss of Zion National Park Forever Project. As part of the park’s ongoing effort to ensure the health and well-being of the bighorn sheep population, in November 2017, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and Zion National Park, captured and gps-collared 17 bighorn sheep.
The project was created to help reduce the risk of catastrophic pneumonia outbreaks. Contact between wild and domestic sheep can result in large scale infection of the bighorn sheep herd, resulting in large scale die off and years of reduced lambing.
All of the captured bighorn sheep were tested for pneumonia, and the test came back clear for the disease. Th en to further protect the Zion herd, the sheep were transplanted to the San Juan County area. This relocation project is part of a statewide and regional effort to bolster the sheep herd by reducing density and supporting genetic diversity and health.
Leading by example, the Zion Forever Project’s Adopt a Sheep program provided critical funding for this operation. Over 4,000 park visitors supported this project by “adopting” a bighorn sheep stuffed animal from the Zion Forever Project. (check out their website at zionpark.org). Th e amazing momentum behind the Forever Project helped to infuse funding, community support and partnerships.
One of these key partnerships is between Zion National Park and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). UDWR provides the highly skilled helicopter crew that makes the capture and relocation possible. As Cass Bronly, Chief of Resources, Zion National Park stated, “It is a rewarding experience to work with all of these skilled and passionate people who are helping to further bighorn sheep conservation at Zion, and throughout the state of Utah.”
As Mark Preiss stated beautifully; “Protecting the health of these iconic animals is a priority and our responsibility as stewards of Zion”, and initiatives like the Bighorn Sheep Relocation Project help make this goal a reality.