COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KDVR) — Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved 21 bighorn sheep from the Rampart herd in Colorado Springs to a new home in Beaver Creek Canyon on Tuesday.
The sheep were captured, transferred by truck to the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area, and then airlifted into the remote canyon.
The bighorn sheep were relocated for a few reasons, CPW District Wildlife Manager Travis Sauder said.
“The first and primary goal is to supplement and kickstart a herd in the Beaver Creek drainage that is struggling, so we want to get more animals in there, increase that genetic diversity and that population count,” Sauder shared. “It also helps us remove excess individuals from that Rampart sheep herd, keep them from becoming overpopulated, reduce that density, which can help prevent disease outbreaks and other things like that.”
You might be wondering why CPW airlifted the bighorn sheep instead of driving them the entire trip.
“To reach Beaver Creek Canyon, it’s a 2-plus hour hike. In the helicopter, it was a 10-minute flight,” CPW said.
More than 60 biologists, wildlife officers, veterinarians, CPW staff and volunteers helped with the relocation process, CPW said.
The bighorn sheep were baited under a net for three weeks, then the net was dropped on them. From there, CPW said the sheep’s legs were bound together, blindfolds were put on them to keep them calm, and blue tarps with handles were used for carrying captured sheep to be assessed and transported to the airlift site in Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area.
Watch full interview with CPW and see video in the player above
CPW said this process is safe for the bighorn sheep, even though it might look extreme to some.
“Our objective here at CPW is to perpetuate the wildlife resource. Everything we do is with their well-being in mind. While it may look a bit extreme, those animals are under a slight sedative and that’s a big reason while we blindfold them it helps really reduce any of that visual stimulation. The big orange sacks that you see them in really restricts their movement and that helps keep them calm and contained,” Sauder said.
Here’s a photo gallery of the entire process from CPW:
“This is something that is done fairly regularly, whether that be with bighorn sheep or even elk, this has been proven to be a very effective method for moving the animals and it’s highly successful,” Sauder explained.
Sauder said a CPW staffer stayed with each sheep until they were loaded for transport. After that, CPW said veterinarians took their temperatures, drew blood, and assessed their breathing. Some sheep got ear-tagged and fitted for collars with radio transmitters.
Sauder said there haven’t been any big issues with injuries or trauma to the long-term well-being of the animals.
CPW said this transport that happened on Tuesday was retracing the footsteps of agency conservation pioneers who, in September 1944, were the first in the nation to capture and release bighorn sheep.
“Sheep transplants from Tarryall in the 1940s were the foundation of us recovering the species,” said Julie Stiver, senior terrestrial biologist in CPW’s Southeast Region. “We wouldn’t have the sheep we have today across Colorado without the work of those conservation pioneers re-establishing those sheep in their historic ranges. We are proud to be carrying on that tradition for today’s Colorado residents and for future generations.”
The capture and relocation of bighorn sheep was a wildlife conservation project funded through and auction and raffle grant with support from the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, CPW said.
If you would like to volunteer to help CPW, they said they could always use help. Contact CPW here.