Another of the 31 bighorn sheep transplanted to the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson has died, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said last week.
As Doug Kreutz of the Arizona Daily Star reported, just 12 of the original bighorns in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness are known to be alive. The Associated Press further reported that a 13th bighorn may also be alive, but its tracking collar may be malfunctioning.
Game and Fish said the most recent sheep death was not due to mountain-lion predation, as most of the other deaths have been, and said in a statement that it would conduct tests on the sheep to determine how it died.
Despite the deaths, Game and Fish said is going ahead with a release of another 30 bighorns on Pusch Ridge this week.
Bighorns disappeared from the Catalinas in the 1990s as humans encroached upon their presence there. The species' reintroduction has been a divisive topic, with opponents saying the project is doomed to failure because the habitat is no longer suitable for bighorns. Supporters, though, say the sheep are reproducing, with at least five lambs spotted in the mountains.
The late Charles Bowden wrote about the November 2013 bighorn reintroduction in Counting Sheep, an essay in the February 2014 issue of Arizona Highways.
Photo: One of the bighorns released in the Santa Catalina Mountains last year. | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department