As of the beginning of last week, 22 of the 30 collared bighorn sheep released into the Santa Catalina Mountains in November are alive.
To date, seven of the eight deaths have been attributed to mountain lions, where one has been attributed to capture myopathy. Though efforts have been made to possibly track and kill each offending mountain lion, only two have been killed.
There are no plans to discontinue the project.
The most recent death happened southwest of Ski Valley, where the sheep initially traveled after the release. The adult ewe, which was found on Jan. 15, appeared to have been killed by a mountain lion. Although a search for the mountain lion began, Arizona Game and Fish officials were unable to find the mountain lion and the search was called off.
On Jan. 11, an adult ewe was found further south of the most recent sheep death.
The department has organized an update on the bighorn sheep Reintroduction Project every two weeks. In their recent release Friday, it described finding this sheep:
There was a significant delay in locating the carcass due to collar satellite uplink issues. A preliminary investigation was done on foot on Jan. 5. Although investigators were close to the last known location and subsequent mortality location, they were unable to get a signal or find the sheep, suggesting that the sheep had left the area, which was later determined to not be the case. The sheep carcass was likely moved, perhaps while it was fed upon by a lion, and the collar was eventually positioned in a way that allowed for a successful uplink of locational data. Once a satellite transmission was received it was apparent that the sheep was dead and had been in the same location for several days. Due to the time lapse, pursuit of the lion was not initiated.
The third most recent dead bighorn sheep was found on Jan. 8 on the south face of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Esperero Canyon, which is an area known to be heavily populated by mountain lions. Though they found a mountain lion scat with what was believed to be sheep hair in it, the department decided that efforts of pursuing the lion would be futile, so they did not search for the lion.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, in collaboration with the advisory committee tasked with the Bighorn Sheep Reintroduction Project, plan to release the next written briefing on the project and its status on Feb. 7.