A decades-long effort to restore bighorn sheep to their historic habitat gained ground in the days before Christmas when dozens of sheep were transported to a Texas state park.
Conservation supporters cheered as the 46 animals bounded up the slopes of their new home in Bofecillos Mountains along the Rio Grande.
Federal wildlife officials captured 12 rams and 34 ewes in a remote area in West Texas and released them in their original range in Big Bend Ranch State Park, AP reports.
The population of mountain bighorns in Texas was all but obliterated by hunting practices, fencing, and disease from other animals by the 1960s. But conservation efforts brought the number of Texas sheep up to 1,115 this fall, up from 822 in 2006 and 352 in 2002, Texas Parks and Wildlife Service said.
The population of sheep was growing crowded in Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a small town about 25 miles south of Alpine. Officials captured the animals with net-guns fired by helicopter.
After biologists took blood-samples and administered tracking devices, the blindfolded ewes and rams were placed in livestock trailers and crates and driven 80 miles to their new terrain.
The capture-and-release lasted two days and cost about $40,000, AP reports.
Bonnie McKinney, director of the Bighorn Sheep Society, says the bighorn are a crucial part of the region’s ecosystem.
“When you bring them back, you’re putting it back in balance,” she said. “It was man that messed it up but we can fix it.”