LOS ANGELES — Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are once again roaming the ridges and valleys around Olancha Peak in Inyo County following a successful reintroduction of the endangered animals by wildlife officials.
Ten female and four male bighorn sheep were established last month as the first new herd at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada in 25 years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Wednesday.
The sheep were captured in steep terrain from two of the largest existing herds farther north in the mountain range. They were transported, blindfolded and hobbled, by helicopters to a staging area where scientists examined the animals for diseases, proper nutrition and genetic diversity.
Volunteers helped outfit the sheep with GPS collars before releasing them.
The sheep are “amazingly tolerant and adaptable,” said Tom Stephenson, bighorn recovery program leader for the state wildlife agency. He predicted the animals would thrive in the new herd.
“There’s a rich history of moving bighorn sheep throughout the Western U.S. because so many were endangered or went extinct,” Stephenson said. “So there’s a lot of data and experience we’re able to draw on from our state and other states on how to do it effectively and maximize our potential for success.”
Scientists planned to add more ewes to the new herd to bring the total number of females to between 20 and 30, he said.
There are now 10 herds of Sierra bighorn in the mountains between Sequoia National Park and Yosemite. Officials hoped to reintroduce three additional herds to meet federal recovery goals.
“Recovery won’t happen without our intervention to reoccupy these historic habitats,” Stephenson said.
The population, which historically numbered in the thousands, currently is around 500 — up from a low of 100 in the 1970s after decades of disease and unregulated hunting.