One of the bighorn sheep released into the wild in the Santa Catalina Mountains has been found dead.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department said Friday the dead ram was discovered Wednesday. Thirty-one of the bighorns were released in the mountains Nov. 18 after being captured in the Yuma area.
The dead animal was found along the eastern edge of Sutherland Ridge near Romero Canyon, Mark Hart, an agency spokesman, said in a news release.
The discovery was made after a mortality signal from the sheep’s GPS radio collar was detected during an aerial survey. All but one of the bighorn sheep were fitted with the collars.
The cause of death of the 4-year-old ram is under investigation. Samples were collected from the carcass for analysis.
Hart said possible causes are injuries that may have occurred during or after capture, including myopathy or acute acidosis cause by stress that can lead to heart failure. Other possible causes are a fall, a predator or disease.
Toxicology results from the ram are expected by Dec. 6 or early the following week.
“Any time we undertake a translocation of wildlife, mortalities are to be expected,” said regional supervisor Raul Vega. “Our intent is to minimize mortalities within this population by all available means.”
The dead ram was one of six adult males released. The population includes 24 ewes and one yearling ram.
The sheep were transplanted to the Catalinas in an effort to rebuild a herd that died out there in the 1990s.
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.
Game and Fish Department officers — along with the U.S. Forest Service and an advisory group from conservation and wildlife groups — spent more than a year evaluating the transplant concept and working out details.
The cost for the three-year project is about $600,000.