Texas is still home to Desert Bighorn sheep, but there are not as many as there once were. In the late 1800s there were perhaps up to 1,500 sheep in the rugged mountains of Trans-Pecos Texas. However, due mainly to unregulated hunting and diseases from domestic and exotic livestock, Texas bighorn numbers dwindled to about 500 in 1903 and by the 1960s they were gone. But bighorn sheep, like Texans, are tough.
Today bighorn sheep are coming back thanks to decades of work by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), wildlife conservation groups, private landowners and others. TPWD biologists this past September observed 1,115 sheep in Texas, which is up from 822 in 2006 and only 352 in 2002. This steady climb back from the brink is due in part to relocation and restoration of wild sheep into areas where bighorns had once been extirpated. The increase in bighorn sheep in West Texas is great, but more work remains.
The Bofecillos Mountains of Big Bend Ranch State Park are next on the list of priority areas of historic bighorn range in Texas where sheep have not yet been restored. Establishing sheep in the park will increase numbers and diversity of the bighorn population in Texas, help restore the park’s native wildlife ecology and provide an outstanding new visitor wildlife viewing opportunity. In years to come, public hunting in the park may also be possible, although that is not the primary restoration goal.
“This puts an animal in its rightful place,” said Ruben Cantu, TPWD Wildlife Division regional director in San Angelo. “Its home is mountain ranges in West Texas. This is a desert mountain icon, an important component of the ecosystem.”
About 40 desert bighorn sheep were captured at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area using a helicopter and moved by trailer to Big Bend Ranch State Park in mid-December. It was the latest phase of a multi-partner wildlife restoration project begun in 1954, and the first bighorn reintroduction at a Texas state park. Big Bend Ranch bighorn restoration is a collaborative effort between TPWD’s Wildlife and State Parks Divisions.
If you love Texas, you will LOVE this video!