Bighorn sheep — absent from the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson for more than a decade — could be roaming wild in the range again by mid-November.
State wildlife officials said Wednesday that plans call for capturing bighorns on the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground northeast of Yuma beginning Nov. 16.
“We’ll be trying to get 30 sheep and then transport them to the Tucson area by truck,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They will be released at Catalina State Park” north of the city.
The bighorns, the first of about 100 to be reintroduced into the Catalinas over the next two years, are intended to help re-establish a once-flourishing herd that died out in the late 1990s.
Hart said a helicopter will be used to capture sheep in the rugged terrain of the proving ground.
“They shoot a net from the helicopter and the bighorn becomes entangled,” Hart said. “Then the animal is airlifted to a staging area where it’s blindfolded and prepared for transport by truck.”
The exact start date and duration of the transplant operation will depend on weather and challenges of capturing the sheep.
“We’re planning generally on Nov. 16, 17 and 18,” but less or more time might be required, Hart said.
The animals will be trucked to Catalina Park as promptly as possible.
“They will be released from the truck, and they will just bound right out and start climbing” into the mountains, Hart said.