Protecting Zion’s Bighorn Sheep Heritage
As depicted in ancient rock writing bighorn sheep have been an integral part of Zion’s story for centuries despite nearing extinction within park boundaries in 1950. Starting in 1968, Zion biologists conducted original research on how to conserve the species and gained understanding which informs management strategies to the present day.
Continuing this tradition of leadership in research and resource management, Zion utilized 2018 funding from the Zion Forever Project to transplant 50 bighorn sheep to nearby public lands to reestablish traditional bighorn sheep herds and protect the Zion herd from the impact of disease. In order to monitor bighorn sheep and their movement patterns, 23 sheep were outfitted with GPS collars. Over the past several months, Zion has tracked its bighorn sheep and is beginning to understand how bighorn sheep use the broader landscape.
Moving into 2019, park leadership is looking to expand the Adopt-a-Bighorn Sheep program to understand the forces impacting bighorn sheep survival. In connection with state wildlife agency partners, Zion will develop a monitoring and tracking program to understand migration routes and travel systems of the herds in and outside of the park’s boundaries. Phase II of this project includes aerial population counts and field research to investigate lamb success rates utilizing the GPS collars outfitted during Phase I last summer. Select field research and emerging findings will be shared digitally with visitors as the project unfolds. This project retains the tradition of ensuring that bighorn sheep remain a common and thrilling sight in the park for years to come.