Bighorns released near Tucson

Bighorn sheep are roaming wild in the Catalina Mountains once more.

Thirty-one of the fleet, agile animals — captured in rugged mountains near Yuma over the weekend — were released early Monday at Catalina State Park north of Tucson.

The 24 ewes, six rams and one lamb leaped out of a transport trailer when doors were opened and made a bounding beeline for craggy Pusch Ridge.

State wildlife officers "transplanted" the animals as a first step in an effort to rebuild a bighorn herd that died out in the Catalinas in the 1990s.

"So far, it's looking good," said Raul Vega, regional supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department minutes after the bighorns took to the hills. "There were no fatalities" or serious injuries in the process of capturing and releasing the animals.

Plans call for transplanting 30 more sheep to the area next year and another 30 the following year with hopes of building a herd of about 100 animals.

Officials acknowledged it will take time to learn how the bighorns will adapt to their new home — where factors such as urban encroachment, predation by mountain lions and human recreation activities could have contributed to the previous herd's demise.

Check out these videos by the Star's Doug Kreutz.

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