By Leasa Conze - email
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The bighorn sheep population in southwestern Arizona is down slightly but not as low as it has been in the past.
Arizona Game and Fish wildlife managers have just completed their 2009 count in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
This year they counted 410 bighorn, down from last year's 436, but still slightly above the lowest recorded level, which occurred in 2006 when 390 sheep were counted.
The population of bighorn peaked in 2000 when 812 were counted.
Wildlife managers say that year there was a lot of rain, and since then, several factors have possibly been in play, leading to the population's decline, including drought, predation, disease and human disturbance.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are conducting an ongoing, joint study to collect data on these and other suspected causes of the population's decline.
In November 2007, 30 ewes were captured and fitted with tracking collars to help wildlife managers understand and monitor nutrition, movements, and mortality so managers can make better decisions to restore the herd's population.
That data will be retrieved next fall.
AGFD has an extensive website devoted to the Kofa NWR bighorn sheep. Just go to www.azgfd.gov/kofa.
"Kofa's bighorn sheep population is critically important to numerous small vulnerable bighorn sheep populations throughout the Southwest. If we are unsuccessful in restoring the bighorn sheep population in the Kofas, many of these populations will go extinct. The Kofa population is essential to the translocation efforts of the bighorn," says John Hervert, Wildlife Program Manager for AGFD.