In 1980 there were less than 70 wild desert bighorn sheep living in New Mexico. Since then, due to various conservation efforts, there are 550. Five hundred is the number deemed viable by local Game and Fish officials, and so the Bighorn are currently under review to be delisted from the state’s endangered species list. The current population is estimated to grow to beyond 700 by 2012.
The simple fact a species can reach such a vulnerable state and come back from near death is a testament to inherent resilience, and the care of the biologists and policy makers who invested themselves in the thirty year journey. The people who made the restoration possible are unsung heroes. Is the work done though? Who decides what is the proper population size?
The Bighorn Institute says about 200 years ago, there could have been as many as two million living in the United States, but excessive hunting, disease from domestic sheep, and habitat loss sent their numbers into drastic decline. Could there once again be that many desert bighorn?
They are a hardy animal and well-adapted to a very dry environment, so it is possible. According to Wikipedia, “Some of the bighorn may go without visiting water for weeks or months, sustaining their body moisture from food and from rainwater collected in temporary rock pools.” Their ability to go without water for such long periods allows them to reside in areas too dry for large predators such as mountain lions. Sounds like an ingenious adaptation for animals that are vegetarian, and don’t have obvious defenses like large, sharp teeth or claws.
Their numbers will most likely never get back into the millions, but at least in New Mexico they are being rejuvenated somewhat.
You can send thanks or other comments about the success and delisting here:
Elise Goldstein, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Department of Game and Fish, P.O. Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504, (505) 476-8041
Image Credit: Andrew Bama