Of the 31 bighorn sheep released into the Santa Catalina Mountains, 20 are known to be alive, according to Arizona Game and Fish officials.
The ninth bighorn sheep to die in the reintroduction project was found on Jan. 31 in an area on the southwest portion of the mountain range. The pregnant ewe appeared to have been killed by a young mountain lion or a bobcat.
Due to a recent rain, officials were unable to find fresh tracks or a trail, so the animal that killed the sheep was not located or removed.
The most recent bighorn sheep mortality was reported Monday. It was a female that had been separated from other sheep. Game and Fish officials are puzzled as to why the sheep was alone and in its location. The death is currently being investigated.
Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Ben Brochu says officials are a little surprised at the high rate of mortality as compared with other similar projects the department has done.
“We expected to lose, period,” Brochu said. “This number isn’t out of the ordinary, but it is quicker than what we have seen with previous efforts.
“We are not sure, and there are a bunch of theories out there, as to why we have seen the high predation rates.”
Despite the mountain range having a population of 6,000-7,000 deer, it has puzzled officials as to why mountain lions have taken to killing 9 of the 10 sheep that have died.
Factors in consideration for this trend include questioning how high the population of mountain lions has become or possibly the scent that bighorn sheep emit.
“They maybe have a more pungent odor that mountain lions are able to pick them up more so than deer, which would lead to high predation rates than deer,” Brochu said “We aren’t sure and we are trying to sort that out and figure that out.”
Despite these issues, Brochu was able to confirm that the young sheep that was released without a collar is still alive and a group of about 10 sheep have formed and have been staying in an area around Romero Pools.