Another bighorn sheep has died in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, state wildlife officials confirmed Saturday.
It’s the 11th bighorn death in the range since 31 sheep were released in November, bringing the toll to more than a third of the population in about three months.
“The Arizona Game and Fish Department confirmed a bighorn sheep mortality in the Santa Catalina Mountains on Wednesday, Feb. 12,” says a notice on a department website. “The cause of death for the ram was determined to be predation by mountain lion, which was also determined to be the cause of death for a bighorn ewe mortality confirmed on Friday, Feb.7. In both cases, the mountain lions that took the sheep were pursued but not administratively removed (killed).”
The news comes just days after the department announced that two lambs have been born to ewes that were among the sheep relocated to the Catalinas.
A member of a group called Friends of Wild Animals said the rapidly occurring deaths suggest that the reintroduction project — an effort to rebuild a herd that disappeared from the Catalinas in the 1990s — is doomed.
“Only 20 of the original 31 relocated bighorn sheep are alive after only three months,” Rich Small said. “The actual death rate of the relocated bighorns indicates that, within the next six months, all will be dead.
“It’s a shame that two lambs were born in unfamiliar habitat in the Catalina Mountains instead of in their parents’ home ranges over near Yuma, where the habitat is familiar to the adults and where mountain lions are not being killed by Game and Fish Department personnel.”
Two mountain lions have been killed in the Catalinas for preying on bighorns since the project began.