A seventh bighorn sheep apparently has died in the Catalina Mountains, according to state wildlife officials, said a state senator who spoke with the officials Wednesday.
“In my office, they said it appears that a seventh sheep has died of the 31” that were transplanted to the Catalinas in November, said Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson. “I said that if seven sheep have died in just two months, what would happen if all 31 were dead by July? Would they stop the program? They said no.”
Officials of the Arizona Game and Fish Department — which is overseeing the bighorn reintroduction project with input from a citizen advisory group — have repeatedly and adamantly declined to respond to questions about sheep deaths except by way of a news release issued every two weeks.
The most recent news release on the project, which is aimed at rebuilding a herd that died out in the Catalinas, was issued Jan. 10 and confirmed only five bighorn deaths. At least two mountain lions have been killed for killing bighorns.
The next release is scheduled for today.
“The public is obviously outraged about this, and they (wildlife officials) have backtracked on their pledge to be transparent and accountable,” said Dwight Metzger, a member of a group called Friends of Wild Animals. The group opposes the reintroduction of bighorns and the killing of mountain lions.
“They still refuse to quantify how many lives will be lost — bighorns and mountain lions — until they admit this is a failure,” Metzger said. “A lot of questions need to be answered.”
Rich Small, another member of the group, said, “I would like to see the Game and Fish Department decide not to go ahead with the additional reintroductions planned for later this year and sometime next year. It’s wasting bighorn sheep and mountain lions that will be killed for killing bighorn sheep.”