Multi-agency Effort to Rescue Deer From Canal

A doe and her fawn found themselves in need of some assistance in getting out of a canal near the bridge on Hazel Avenue in Rancho Cordova on Monday, December 15.  Personnel from Sacramento Metropolitan Fire, Bureau of Reclamation, Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue, California Fish and Wildlife North Central Region and the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory all contributed their expertise to ensure the best outcome for the deer.  The doe and fawn were safely captured and then released at Lake Natoma.  Below are pictures of the rescue.

Doe and fawn trapped in canal.

Doe and fawn trapped in canal.

 

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire rescuing doe from the canal

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire rescuing doe from the canal

California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel blindfolding the doe to reduce  stress to the animal and hobbling the doe so she won't hurt herself or others

California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel blindfolding the doe to reduce stress to the animal and hobbling her so she won’t hurt herself or others

 

Dr. Ben Gonzales from California Fish and Wildlife releasing the fawn after rescue.

Dr. Ben Gonzales from California Fish and Wildlife releasing the fawn after rescue.

 

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The Tule Elk, A California Comeback Story

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

The elk (Cervus canadensis) to this day remains an icon of what once was the unsettled, untamed American frontier.  There are four extant subspecies of elk in North America.  The Manitoban elk (C.c. manitobensis) is exclusive to Canada, but the other three subspecies can be found in California.  They are the Roosevelt elk (C.c. roosevelti) of the north coast rainforests, Rocky Mountain elk (C.c. nelsoni) of the northeastern counties, and the tule elk (C.c. nannodes) native to the Central Valley.

Elk distribution in California.

Elk distribution in California.  Photo courtesy of the DFW Elk Management Program.

Tule elk look similar to other elk in general size, shape, and color (albeit tules wear a slightly lighter brown).  Generally speaking, however, tule elk are overcome in maximum size by both Rocky Mountain elk and the great Roosevelt elk.  A good sized Roosevelt bull, the largest of the subspecies, can reach 1,000 pounds or more.  Tule elk are the smallest subspecies; in fact, at one time they were colloquially referred to as ‘dwarf elk’.  A large bull tule elk will tip the scales at about 700-800 pounds (hardly a ‘dwarf’ by any means), yet under ideal conditions they may grow larger.

The tule elk, the smallest of the elk subspecies, are best adapted to open country and semi-desert conditions among elk races (McCullough 1969).  Image source: CDFW

Tule elk once roamed the San Jaoquin Valley in ample numbers.  Early settlers found tule elk roaming the foothills of the Sierra Nevada west to the central Pacific coast and from the headstream of the Sacramento River south to the Tehachapi Mountains.  Much like the affliction of the American bison on the Great Plains, tule elk became a casualty of human settlement — particularly after the Gold Rush.

Unregulated market hunting, competition with livestock, and the introduction of nonnative plant species all contributed to the decline of tule elk.  What was more devastating, however, was the conversion of elk habitat to agricultural land.  When settlers turned to the plow not only did it remove food and cover resources for elk, it also brought about direct conflict between elk and farmers.  Increasing crop and fence damage fueled campaigns for the removal of the tule elk by those individuals whose livelihoods were affected.  By the time elk hunting was banned by the state legislature in 1873, it was unknown if any tule elk even remained.

Luckily tule elk did remain, thanks in part to the protection provided by California cattle baron Henry Miller.  In 1874 a pair of Tule elk was discovered on the Miller and Lux Ranch by a local game warden at Button Willow.  Miller set aside 600 acres (near present day Tule Elk State Natural Reserve) to give the elk a chance to rebound.  In 1914, the elk had experienced such growth in numbers that Miller requested the California Fish & Game Commission work to relocate the elk from his ranch.

In order to relieve Miller from elk damage to his property and crops (reportedly estimated at $5,000 per year), the U.S. Biological Survey attempted to relocate tule elk by lassoing them from horseback and transporting them to new areas, with little success.  From 1914 to 1934 the California Academy of Science took on tule elk relocation activities 21 times over the next several decades.  These attempts were not very successful either, although they did contribute to establishing the herds at Owens Valley, Cache Creek, and the Tupman Reserve.

From 1971 through 1989 complete species protection was granted to tule elk.  State and Federal laws were passed to prohibit hunting of tule elk until a population of at least 2,000 was reached.  Habitat improvement programs combined with an aggressive reintroduction campaign by the Department of Fish & Game and other state and federal agencies yielded a significant increase in California’s tule elk population.

Tule elk of the San Luis National Wildlife Refugre, circa 1970s.  Image source: BLM 3rd Annual Report to Congress on The Tule Elk.

Tule elk of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, cca the 1970s. Image source: BLM 3rd Annual Report to Congress on The Tule Elk, March 1, 1979.

Today there are twenty-two tule elk herds in the Golden State, totaling around 4,200 individuals with the population trending upward.

Due to competing land use practices, it is not easy for tule elk to freely move between sub-populations; this requires the Department of Fish & Wildlife to take action in order to meet statewide management objectives.To help maintain healthy herds, every so often CDFW is tasked with capturing and relocating healthy elk to different established

Dr. Annette Roug (right, kneeling) leads a team of biologists as they attempt to weigh a cow elk.  Photo credit: Joe and Nancy Rodrguez.

Dr. Annette Roug (front right) leads a team of biologists as they attempt to weigh a cow elk. Photo credit: Joe and Nancy Rodrguez.

herds.  Removing elk from one herd and placing them in another helps to simulate the natural movement of individuals between herds which increases genetic diversity, an important function of a healthy population.

The Wildlife Investigations Lab took part in one such capture and relocation effort at the end of March.  A total of 36 elk were captured via helicopter from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos.  Once elk were netted from the helicopter, they were processed by capture teams.  Capture teams took measurements, collected hair, blood, and other biological data to assess the health of the herd before they moved on to their new locations.

The animals were successfully released to join their new herds.  A portion of the captured animals were also radio-collared to collect post-release movement information.

An elk sets eyes on joining its new herd.  Photo courtesy of Joe and Nancy Rodriguez.

An elk sets sights on joining its new herd. Photo courtesy of Joe and Nancy Rodriguez.

To read the CDFW news release from this successful capture, click here.

For more information on the CDFW Elk Program, click here.

Interested in more tule elk biology?  Click here.

 

 

Why is it important to report wildlife mortalities?

Over the past 12 months, the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory has been asking the public for their assistance in reporting wildlife mortality events.  WIL recognizes that mortality reports are an important tool in monitoring the health of the State’s wildlife. Wildlife mortality reports can:

  • help us better understand these phenomena;
  • lead to more effective prevention and control;
  • potentially detect emerging diseases affecting fish and wildlife; and
  • recognize problems that could affect human and domestic animal health.

WIL received 30 mortality reports submitted by the public from July 2012 – June 2013.  These reports documented mortalities in 21 different species and have been added to a permanent record so that we may potentially be able to detect phenomena such as seasonal mortality trends or weather mortality events in the future.

Mortality Reports:  July 2012 – June 2013

CDFW - WIL Wildlife Mortality Reports, 2012-2013

CDFW – WIL Wildlife Mortality Reports, 2012-2013

Public reporting makes a valuable contribution to the information we are trying to collect and is an important source for disease outbreak monitoring and emerging health threats. Please help us monitor the fish and wildlife populations in California.

For more information on wildlife mortality reporting, please follow the links below.

California wildlife mortality reports:

http://dfg.ca.gov/LivingWithWildlife/Mortality/

California roadkill tracking:

http://www.wildlifecrossing.net/california/

Wildlife heath information:

http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/map/mortality_events.jsp

http://healthmap.org

www.wher.org

Catch & Release: When to Decide if Medical Intervention is Needed During Wildlife Captures

By Jaime Rudd, WIL Scientific Aid

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

The Living Desert Zoo publishes an online magazine, FoxPaws. In article 7, issue 2 the zoo writes about an injured desert kit fox that WIL brought into their care last winter.

Studying wildlife on nature’s terms can be difficult. Not only can the weather and topography be uncooperative, but the study species can pose challenges as well. One challenge is deciding if intervention is necessary and appropriate if an animal is found sick or injured.

Here at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL), we have veterinarians who can help make decisions regarding wild animal care. Deana Clifford, WIL’s non-game veterinarian, is also an epidemiologist and field biologist. With her diverse background in field studies and wildlife medicine, she is able to make important decisions while in the field or here at WIL. However, like many field biologists, she finds herself in remote areas far from home. In these situations, we rely upon local wildlife rehabilitation facilities for their time and care.

The Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center at the Living Desert Zoo in Palm Desert has partnered with WIL to provide medical treatment for sick or injured desert kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis). The desert kit fox disease monitoring project is ongoing and began in January of 2012 in response to a canine distemper outbreak that occurred at a solar development site in eastern Riverside County. During our January 2012 capture effort, an adult male desert kit fox was suspected to have a broken jaw. The decision for intervention was made by Dr. Clifford, who quickly weighed many factors to decide if the risk associated with temporarily taking this fox out of the wild was mitigated by the benefit that would be gained from treatment.  Key considerations for her decision making included: Was the injury significant enough to affect the fox’s chance of continued survival? Could the cause of the injury be associated with our trapping efforts? Could the injury be fixed allowing the fox to return to normal?

Since this injury could definitely affect the fox’s ability to catch prey and potentially was repairable, we transported the fox to the Living Desert Zoo to confirm whether or not the jaw was broken, and if so, examine options for repair.  Living Desert veterinarian Dr. Kevin Leiske consulted Dr. Yee, a veterinary dentist at Veterinary Dental Specialists, and a treatment plan was set up to care for the young male with the intent to release him back into the wild. After approximately 7 weeks of care, the fox’s jaw had healed. Before release, zoo staff made sure that the fox was able hunt and eat whole prey. In March 2012 he was fitted with a radio collar and then taken back to the site where he was originally captured (under state department regulations, all wild mammals must be released within 3 miles of where they were found).

Not long after release, the fox’s collar went “off-air” and biologists were unable to track him. Despite an extensive ground search by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW, formerly Fish and Game),  biological monitors at the solar site, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and volunteers, we did not find the fox. In October 2012, CDFW took to the sky to listen for his signal, but again was unable to successfully locate this one fox.

In January 2013, our concerns were finally laid to rest when we recaptured this male fox! His jaw is a little bit crooked but he was in good body condition and weight — clearly surviving and doing well back in the wild. We also discovered that his collar had simply malfunctioned and was no longer working.  We then removed the collar and sent this fox back on his way to continue thriving in the wild.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he shows his gratitude by offering a unique photo opportunity as he rolls around! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

After WIL biologists discovered that the radio collar on this desert kit fox was no longer working, it was removed. Upon his release, he offered a unique photo opportunity as he rolled around on the sand – not far from biologists! Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

There is always a risk when an animal has to be removed from the wild, even if it’s just for a few hours or days. Biologists understand this risk and must consider the benefits, if any, to the animal. Knowing the life-history and behavior of the study species is extremely important during the decision-making process.  In this case, a young otherwise healthy male desert kit fox was found to have a potentially life-threatening injury that could be treated with minimal human contact. If we treated his injury and successfully healed the fracture, we felt that his probability of survival was much greater than if we knowingly released him with a broken jaw.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured a year after he was found with a broken jaw. While his lower canines protrude a bit, he was in good weight and body condition. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

A healed and healthy desert kit fox was recaptured this winter, one year after he was found with a broken jaw. Trained wildlife biologists are able to use physical restraint rather than chemical immobilization during desert kit fox physical exams. This allows us to quickly conduct exams and take samples without the use of drugs. In this photo CDFW volunteer biologist Teri Baker gently holds the fox while WIL veterinarian Deana Clifford  documents his uniquely new physical feature – slightly protruding lower canines.  This male fox was found to be in good weight and physical condition at the time of recapture. Photo courtesy of Deana Clifford.

WIL would like to sincerely thank Dr. Kevin Leiske, Saldy Portacio, and the rest of the wonderful staff at Living Desert Zoo for generously giving their time and providing care  to the desert kit foxes and other desert wildlife. To read more about how the Living Desert cared for this desert kit fox, go to page 4 of FoxPaws Magazine.

PLEASE NOTE: Only state and federally permitted individuals or organizations can lawfully rehabilitate wildlife. California Code of Regulations section 679 specifically addresses wildlife rehabilitation and has incorporated The Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation written by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). To learn more about the permitting process, please follow the link.

Wildlife rehabilitation is a broad and complex field and it is continually evolving and progressing. Continued education is a critical factor when it comes to maintaining a professional knowledge-base at rehabilitation facilities. Because of this, the CDFW requires that all wildlife rehabilitation personnel (professional and volunteer) satisfactorily complete one approved wildlife rehabilitation training session each year. The minimum for these sessions is 2 hours.

Click here for more information on wildlife welfare and rehabilitation and for a complete list of wildlife rehabilitation facilities in California.

Coexisting with California’s Wild Turkeys

By Tom Batter, Wildlife Investigations Lab Scientific Aid

Two turkeys feed in a residential area.  Photo credit Mark Meshriy

Two turkeys feed in a residential area. Photo credit Matt Meshriy.

The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a wide-ranging upland game bird of North America.  There are five distinct subspecies of turkey, four of which have been transplanted into California at one time or another.  This includes the Eastern (M.g. silvestris), Rio grande (M.g. intermedia), Merriam’s (M.g. merriami), and Gould’s (M.g. mexicana) wild turkey. Today the most common subspecies found in California are the Rio grande and the Merriam’s varieties.

Wild turkeys were first introduced into California on Santa Cruz Island in 1877 by private ranchers (although there may be evidence that a turkey species existed in California as recently as the Pleistocene epoch).  Ranchers released these turkeys into the wild to have a supply of game birds readily available.  Throughout the early 20th century, introductions occurred several more times without a lasting effect.

The California Fish and Game Commission first purchased birds from Mexico in 1908 and released them into the San Bernardino Mountains.  Over twenty additional turkeys were farm-raised for future game-stocking purposes.  Between 1928 and 1951 these farm-raised birds continued to be released until the program’s termination due to lack of success.  During these twenty-three years, only three populations were successfully established.

It wasn’t until after 1959 that turkey populations began to take flight. A new management tool aided the propagation of the wild turkey in California.  The cannon-net trap was developed around this time, which increased trap-relocation feasibility and efficiency.

The rocket net is set over the food plot, ready to capture turkeys at the push of a button.  Photo credit M. Meshriy.

The cannon-net is set over the food plot, ready to capture turkeys at the push of a button. Photo credit M. Meshriy.

The cannon-net trap – a close relative of the “rocket net” – was utilized to increase wild turkey populations for sporting purposes in California.  Ironically, today cannon nets are typically used to catch and relocate turkeys that present problems for landowners, farmers, golf courses, and airports, among others.

The WIL recently took part in such a capture-relocation.  Homeowners in a rural residential area near Elk Grove contacted CDFW for help with a nuisance turkey situation.  CDFW officials assessed the situation and determined that relocating the turkeys to public wildlife areas was the best option. Factors considered by CDFW officials include: feasibility and probable success of the trapping effort, the safety of the public, the proximity to a suitable release site, and the availability of appropriately trained staff.

Turkeys are very vigilant creatures.  Living in a group puts more eyes on potential threats, and they will scatter at the slightest indication of danger.  So how do we lure turkeys in?  The answer is through a healthy dose of patience.

The first step is to determine where the turkeys in question go at certain times of the day.  Once their travel patterns can be predicted, bait is placed in a spot that is favorable to them as well as for the net and cannon — a cardboard mockup at this stage.  Bait is set for up to a week or more so the turkeys become aware of the food plot and habituated to the area. Once the flock takes to the bait, the real cannon and net are substituted for the fakes, the rocket is charged and ‘live’, and a waiting game begins.

A group of hens feed on the food plot in front of the rocket net.  This is a prime capture opportunity.

A group of hens feed on the food plot in front of the rocket net. This is a good capture opportunity.  Photo credit M. Meshriy.

Once there are enough birds on the bait to make processing them worthwhile (rarely is a second shot possible), and no birds are in danger of harm from the net, the cannon can be fired.  Field crew members quickly sprint to the birds under the net and physically restrain them to prevent injury.  Turkeys are transported back to the lab in specially designed carrying boxes.

WIL Environmental Scientist Krysta Rogers gets a transport box ready while Bob "Turkey Bob" and Upland Game Biologist Levi Souza remove captured turkeys from the netting.  Photo credit M. Meshriy.

WIL Environmental Scientist Krysta Rogers gets a transport box ready while Turkey Capture Specialist Bob “Turkey Bob” Klotz and Upland Game Biologist Levi Souza remove captured turkeys from the netting. Photo credit M. Meshriy.

When they arrive at the WIL, the turkeys receive a health assessment, a leg band and blood is collected in order to test for disease.  Once they are pronounced healthy, the turkeys are released into their new home. CDFW’s policy is to only release turkeys in areas away from human habitation, where there are already established populations and where they will be available for public enjoyment.

For more information on how to avoid conflicts with wild turkeys, click here.

For more information on the wild turkey’s life history, click here.

Fisher Translocation Project Completes Successful Trapping Effort

by Deana Clifford, wildlife veterinarian

Here’s a post and a photo slide show from our colleagues working on  the Fisher Translocation Project. In this post, Kevin Smith describes our successful efforts to capture, examine and monitor fishers.

The Fisher Translocation Project is led by the CA Dept of Fish and Game (CDFG), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), North Carolina State University, and Sierra Pacific Industries. The goal is to translocate fishers into a portion of their historical range in the northern Sierra Nevada. If successful, this project will provide significant benefits to the conservation of fishers in the state.

Photo of DFG Biologist releasing fisher into wild.

CDFG lead for the translocation, Richard Callas and biologist,  Scott Hill release a fisher into the northern Sierras.

Over the past 3 years we have translocated 40 fishers from Northern California to the Stirling Management Area in the northern Sierra Nevada. Although it will take many years to determine if a permanent population will become established, early findings indicate that translocated fishers are successfully reproducing and that fishers born in Stirling are healthy.

The WIL nongame health program provides support to this project by conducting examinations, supervising immobilizations and training field crews. Along with our partners at the Integral Ecology Research Center, and the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab, CDFG is monitoring the health of these fishers during and after release by determining the cause of any mortalities and conducting testing to determine what diseases fishers and other carnivores are exposed to.

See more information about this project.

A Historical Review of Sierra Nevada Bighorn and the Road to Recovery

By Tom Batter, Wildlife Investigations Lab Scientific Aid

“Bighorn… are extremely wary and cautious animals…His strength and his self-reliance seem to fit him above all other kinds of game to battle with the elements and with his brute foes; he does not care to have the rough ways of his life made smooth; were his choice free his abode would still be the vast and lonely wilderness in which he is found.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Ch. VII A Trip After Mountain Sheep, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman (1885)

While the future President Roosevelt was referencing bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) of the North Dakota badlands, his description can be applied just as aptly to the Sierra Nevada bighorn (O. c. sierrae) of California’s east-central boundary.  The rugged mountain peaks and canyons combined with semi-open forest areas provide ideal habitat for these bighorn.

An alert group of Sierra Nevada bighorn.
Image courtesy of John Wehausen & the US Fish & Wildlife Service

Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (SNBS) are an endangered genetically distinct subspecies of bighorn. They are only found in the mountain range that provides their common name.  Today, these sheep are on the road to recovery, in part thanks to intense monitoring by the Department of Fish and Game’s Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Program (SNBSP) in conjunction with the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation.  Led by Dr. Tom Stephenson, the program’s goal is to recover sheep numbers to the point that downlisting, or the ultimate goal, delisting, would be warranted.

Recovery activities center around understanding and managing factors that influence population health and the distribution of these bighorn. Among the factors that could be limiting Sierra Nevada bighorn numbers are disease from domestic sheep, predation, weather events and forest succession, which may limit habitat.

Indeed, the preferred haunt of the bighorn is open habitat adjacent to steep and rocky ground.  They are behaviorally and morphologically suited for such an environment.  Bighorn are equipped with keen binocular vision to detect predators from a great distance. Their short legs, hefty frames and low center of gravity provide agility and tremendous balance.  Their hooves are hard on the outer edges and spongy at the center, a unique adaptation that facilitates exceptional grip on rock.  When danger is perceived, the sheep make the most of their physical abilities by retreating into the nearby cliffs and rock walls where few predators can pursue them.

A home fit for a sheep.
(Photo credit T. Batter)

While it is true bighorn are first-rate predator evaders, they have historically had a harder time avoiding another serious threat: humans.

It was during the mid-1800s that Sierra bighorn sheep numbers began to decline.  Throughout this time California experienced a population boom due to the discovery of gold.  Once the gold rush craze eased up, settlers that remained in the area turned to ranching.  Domestic sheep and cattle began grazing the Sierras, increasing forage competition.  At the beginning of the 20th century, bighorn numbers were down to the thousands.

Domestic sheep graze in the Sierras.
Image courtesy of USDA-Forest Service

Grazing sheep and cattle on western federal lands became the subject of a sizzling congressional debate.  President Roosevelt was neither a fan of forest grazing nor of domestic sheep themselves – he described them as “the most foolish of all tame animals” and referred to flocks as “fleecy idiots.”  A quarrel over sheep grazing created a rift between legendary conservationists John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.  Pinchot assured Muir he was against sheep grazing in forest reserves.  Muir furiously confronted Pinchot over quotes in a Seattle newspaper that suggested otherwise. Disagreement between wool growers and preservationists was high, which ultimately led to grazing regulations and agreements.

While forage competition and over-hunting played a role in bighorn population decline, today one of the most critical threats to Sierra Nevada bighorn recovery is disease transmission from domestic sheep .  Domestic sheep are carriers of pathogens that cause respiratory disease in wild sheep.  While domestic sheep remain unaffected, bighorn that are exposed have no defense against these pathogens and are therefore extremely susceptible to disease and ultimately death.

Recent pneumonia related all-age mortality events have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of bighorn in the Rocky Mountain West. Research implicates a particularly difficult-to-diagnose bacteria,  Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, in initiating many of these outbreaks.  While Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae is commonly found in healthy domestic sheep, years of extensive testing has demonstrated that this bacteria is absent from Sierra Nevada bighorn herds.  This absence certainly results in healthy bighorn, but it also means that the wild herds will be very susceptible to respiratory disease if they are exposed to the organism.  Once exposed, the typical sheep habit of nose-to-nose greetings can result in the unstoppable transmission of the organism within the herd.  Extensive ram movements can then spread the disease to other populations.  Historically, these disease outbreaks have resulted in initial all-age mortality followed by years of high lamb mortality, both of which will delay or prevent the recovery of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.

By the mid-1990s, an estimated 100 bighorn remained in the Sierra Nevada region.  Such low numbers expedited the process of listing the sheep as endangered; in 2000, the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep became the first federally endangered species listed in the 21st century.

Bighorn sheep have heavy ridges which run across the horns, formed each winter. It is possible to age a sheep based on the number of deep grooves. This ram I am supporting was about 7 years old and weighed in near 240 lbs! (Photo credit T. Batter)

This is where Dr. Tom Stephenson, SNBS program personnel, and the Wildlife Investigations Lab (WIL) enter the equation.  Once every fall and spring, Sierra Nevada bighorn are captured and fitted with radio and GPS collars.  Sheep are captured from a helicopter using a hand held net gun (services rendered by Leading Edge Aviation).  The captured sheep are hobbled, blindfolded, and securely fastened into a carrier.  The sheep are then airlifted to a base camp and monitored by processing teams where their safety is the top priority.  In base camp, WIL provides essential equipment, expertise and training in wildlife restraint and humane care, as well as veterinary medical care of injuries or medical problems that occur during the capture

WIL veterinarian Dr. Ben Gonzales lends his expertise in monitoring the health of each sheep that is flown in.  Crew members are trained to closely monitor the bighorn and to collect appropriate blood and nasal samples to evaluate population health.  After the team fits the collars and applies an ear tag, the bighorn is then airlifted back to the capture site where it rejoins the flock.  The collared sheep will then begin to accumulate data that is imperative to their recovery success.

The radio and GPS collars are very useful and important tools in the recovery process for these animals.  Movement patterns, habitat use, survival and causes of mortality can all be examined.

Radio and GPS collars are securely fastened on a ram.
(Photo credit T. Batter)

Furthermore, human recreational impact on the bighorns can be assessed, as well as the grazing overlap between bighorn and domestic sheep.  The collected data will allow for science-based management decisions to be made in order to ensure the survival of Sierra Nevada bighorn.  So far, efforts have helped increase Sierra Nevada bighorn numbers to over 400 individuals.

The Leading Edge Aviation crew as they airlift two processed sheep back to their flock. (Photo credit Trista Welsh)

President Roosevelt went on to describe bighorn sheep as having “…no animal in the world his superior in climbing…”  With successful recovery efforts, the SNBS Program and the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation in partnership with the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory will help guarantee that these rare bighorns remain the ultimate mountain climbers well into the future.

SNBS ewe is collared, tagged, and ready to return! (Photo credit T. Welsh)