Another bighorn sheep has died in the Catalina Mountains — the 10th bighorn fatality since 31 sheep were released in the range last November, state wildlife officials confirmed Monday.
“It was a ewe and it was found on Friday, Feb. 7,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The cause of the death is being investigated.”
The 31 bighorn sheep, captured from healthy herds near Yuma, were relocated to the Catalinas in an effort to rebuild a herd that disappeared from the range in the 1990s.
Most of the sheep that have died were killed by mountain lions. Two lions have been killed for preying on sheep.
The bighorn reintroduction project has won support from a citizens advisory committee and many Tucson-area sportsmen, but it has drawn intense criticism from other members of the public. Opponents maintain it makes little sense to remove bighorns from habitats where herds are thriving and relocate them to the Catalinas, where the previous herd died out. Others have criticized the Game and Fish Department for the killing of lions for doing what predators naturally do to stay alive.
Monday’s confirmation of the most recent bighorn death marked a change from a former Game and Fish Department policy of refusing to provide promptly updated information on the project. Under the previous policy, information was released only in project reports issued every two weeks.