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Jan 24, 2014 11:48 PM by Sam Salzwedel

More than a quarter of reintroduced sheep are dead

TUCSON - More than one quarter of the bighorn sheep reintroduced to Catalina Mountains are dead.

In November, The Arizona Game and Fish Department captured 31 sheep near Yuma and released them in Catalina State Park.

Friday, the department released its latest report, revealing 8 sheep are dead. Mountain lions killed 7.

Whenever a lion kills a sheep, the department tries to kill the specific lion that killed the bighorn. The pursuit has been successful 2 times.

Arizona State Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford met with department officials Wednesday.

"It's just turning out to be a large killing program," Cajero Bedford said. "They have said it's not going to stop."

The November sheep release was the first of 3 planned annually.

The program is expected to cost more than $600,000 and is funded almost entirely by hunting and fishing licenses along with private donations. State lawmakers cannot control it.

"No I can't. I can only be vocal about this," Cajero Bedford said, "along with the Friends of Wild Animals and hope that this does not continue."

The Arizona Game and Fish Department declined interview requests following the release of the report. The next report is scheduled for February 7.

In November, Brian Wakeling, the Division Branch Chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department said, "We were, I think, pretty up front all the way through this, that this is definitely an experiment. Bighorn sheep used to live here. There used to be a very robust population, but things are different than they used to be."

A previous report talked about other relocation efforts. Nearly 2,000 Arizona bighorn sheep have been transplanted throughout the Southwest.

In 2003, Game and Fish started relocating sheep to the the Mineral Mountains northeast of Florence. It took 4 releases over 9 years for the population to reach 100 sheep.

This is the summary of all the Catalina sheep deaths along with the following lion pursuit:

November 27, 2013 - Adult ram - Not killed by lion

November 30, 2013 - Yearling ewe - Lion killed

December 1, 2013 - Adult ewe - Lion killed

December 9, 2013 - Adult ewe - unsuccessful lion pursuit

January 3, 2014 - Adult ewe - unsuccessful lion pursuit

January 8, 2014 - Adult ewe - no lion pursuit

January 11, 2014 - Adult ewe - no lion pursuit

January 15, 2014 - Adult ewe - unsuccessful lion pursuit

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