Diseases from domestic sheep, habitat change, predation, unregulated hunting and other factors have decimated desert bighorn sheep populations across the West. Utah had herds of less than a dozen sheep each in the 1970s before it began bringing them in from other areas.
"Historical accounts suggest they were really abundant — one of the main animals you find on petroglyphs," said Dustin Schaible, wildlife biologist at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "It's native sheep range, (so) we're trying to re-establish them in a lot of those areas."
Nevada's capture and translocation program began in 1967 when the state had about 3,000 wild sheep. About 900 sheep from the population around Henderson have been sent elsewhere. Nielsen said the state makes sure the sheep are going to areas with a reliable water source and where they have a good chance of surviving. The populations can be supplemented as they grow.
The sheep were outfitted with radio collars and ear tags. Four of them have GPS devices that record the sheep's movement every six hours, but officials won't be able to see that data until the devices fall off in two years.
At the end of their journey to Utah, the sheep were eager to break free. They bolted out of the doors of the trailer and headed southwest in the direction they came from, eventually disappearing into the landscape.
"They'll continue running for quite a while until they get acclimated to their surroundings again," Schaible said.