Bighorn sheep moved from Malta to Plains - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Bighorn sheep moved from Malta to Plains

Posted: Mar 11, 2018 12:11 PM Updated:

It's not easy to catch a bighorn sheep especially in sub-zero temperatures but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently accomplished the feat in February.

FWP caught 20 sheep south of Malta and moved them more than 500 miles.

"Occasionally to help herds that are in decline we will transplant animals from different areas, bighorn sheep especially," Dillon Tabish, education officer for FWP Region 1, said.

According to Tabish, the bighorn sheep herd near Plains declined in the last decade from around 100 sheep to under 25.

"We've had some disease-related issues that have really hurt some of the herds there," he said. "Unfortunately next to the highway there in Thompson Falls, the bighorn sheep like to hang out by the road. We've seen bighorn sheep get on and cause collisions with vehicles, which is really unfortunate."

Tabish said in an effort to reestablish the population, bighorn sheep were caught south of Malta from a healthy and abundant herd.

"Our crews got together with Quicksilver Air, a helicopter crew, and they went and they caught twenty bighorn sheep, eighteen ewes and two yearling rams," he said.

Tabish added that the ewes, which are the females, provide the most important opportunity for population health.

"If the ewes can stay healthy, hopefully that will build a really strong foundation for that population to grow," he said.

Although catching the bighorn sheep in negative temperatures was a challenge, biologists were still able to gather valuable data about the health of the transplants. 

Tabish said after the sheep were netted and blindfolded, which calms them down, they were transported to an area for biologists to gather samples.

According to Tabish, the agency is optimistic the herd will continue to grow incrementally over the next decade.

"The goal is to have it around 100-125 sheep, which would allow us to offer more hunting opportunities and it would allow us to confidently say that that population is healthy and safe," he said.

Tabish added that the agency will continue to watch the herd to ensure that disease doesn't spread and that they hopefully remain off of the roads to avoid collisions.

Bighorn sheep have a lifespan of about eight to ten years.

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