FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The helicopter hovered low, allowing a crew member to shoot a net over a desert bighorn sheep in the southeastern Nevada mountains. A "mugger" hurriedly jumped from the aircraft and ran over to the sheep, giving the animal a shot to calm it down before tying its legs with leather strapping, blindfolding it, putting it in a sack, and hoisting it into the air with three other sheep.
With that, the iconic big game animals started their journey to historic rangeland in southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The sheep dangled in the air for a matter of minutes before being carried to a table to get their vitals checked and then hauled in trailers to their new home — a roughly seven-hour trip.
Across the West, states often swap animals to restore or boost the local populations. Utah has given moose to Colorado and pronghorn antelope to Arizona. Colorado mountain lions have been sent to Utah, and Arizona and New Mexico have traded sheep.
"We'll just take them as often as we're offered them until we meet our objectives," said Cameron McQuivey, wildlife biologist for the Utah monument.
Nevada this week gave 50 wild sheep to Utah to help reduce the stress level in Nevada's herds, which comprise about 10,000 animals statewide. State wildlife managers try to keep the sheep population near Henderson, Nev., to between 250 and 300 to prevent the animals from having to compete for resources and from getting stress-related canker sores in their mouths and throat, said Doug Nielsen, a spokesman for the Nevada Division of Wildlife.
Crews delivered the first set of 25 sheep captured from the River Mountains between Henderson and Boulder City in Nevada. That group was taken from a smaller geographic area than the second, and the herd was somewhat accustomed to helicopter noise from aerial tours and encounters with people from frequently wandering into local communities.
The second set of 25 from the Muddy Mountains was from a larger geographic area characterized by rocky cliffs, steep slopes and narrow canyons where the sheep tried to escape. Breezier weather didn't help the pilot, either. Those sheep were being released Friday about 30 miles from the first release site.
Each group had its blood, temperature and other vitals tested before making the trip to Utah.
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