TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A protest against the recently introduced Bighorn Sheep Project was held during an Arizona Game and Fish Department commission meeting Saturday.
Wildlife advocates are upset about the 15 Bighorn sheep deaths that have occurred since Game and Fish released them into the Santa Catalina Mountains and mountain lions began to attack. It is part of an on going project to help boost the Bighorn sheep population.
Many people are not happy with the project so far. Gary Vella of the group Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom was at the protest and he said he believes animals are suffering as a result of this project.
"Eighteen animals that were otherwise healthy and thriving before this program are now dead," Vella said.
But Game and Fish officials say that deaths are to be expected when combining prey and predator. Arizona Game and Fish spokesman Mark Hart says that the deaths part of the process early on.
"We absolutely expect mortalities in the initial stage of the relocation and planning for managing the mountain lion population," Hart said. "When the herd reaches our target, approximately 100 individuals, it will no longer be necessary to manage the mountain lion population."
So far, three lambs have been born during the relocation project and 60 more Bighorn sheep are expected to be brought into the region in the next two years.
But protesters Saturday said they don't want the project to continue. They even put on a show to demonstrate what they believe is wrong. At one point, Arizona Game and Fish workers asked protesters to quiet down so it didn't interrupt the commission meeting. However, Deborah Thompson with Friends of Wild Animal Animals, said they would not be silenced.
"I think Bighorn sheep need to be left alone where they are at now," Thompson said. "I think humans encroach too much on what's going on."
But Game and Fish said, despite the protests, the project won't be changing any time soon.
"There are no plans to change the program which goes on for three years," Hart said.