Desert Bighorn Sheep
Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana)
Armendaris Ranch, NM
Range-wide declines of desert bighorn sheep caused by:
- Overhunting (especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s)
- Previous status: New Mexico state listed as endangered in 1980
- Removed from state list in 2011
Project Goals & Objectives
Contribute to desert bighorn sheep recovery by establishing a viable, self-sustaining herd of desert bighorn sheep in the Fra Cristobal Mountains that also can serve as a donor population to support the species throughout New Mexico. To this end, our desert bighorn sheep project incorporated three core objectives:
- Increase population numbers to the point where the herd is large enough to serve as a source herd for transplants to other areas in New Mexico.
- Advance research when compatible with population establishment.
- Permit a limited recreational hunt at some time in the future.
The Turner Endangered Species Fund’s (TESF) involvement in this restoration project ended on June 30th, 2011 with the establishment of a population of over 250 sheep in the Fra Cristobal and the Caballo Mountains. This is the largest desert bighorn sheep population in New Mexico and the largest population on private land in the country.
The restoration project began in 1995, with the release of 37 of the endangered sheep into the Fra Cristobal Mountains. Another 7 sheep were released in 1997.
Throughout the project, we monitored both sheep and mountain lions. Controlling mountain lions to minimize predation on sheep was our principal management activity. To ensure success, we not only had “boots on the ground” on an almost daily basis, we also used remote, motion-sensitive cameras and telemetric equipment to improve our ability to detect the presence of mountain lions, and the threat they posed to sheep. Strategic field support was also provided by ranch personnel and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).
Due to the herd’s large size, NMDGF translocated 16 ewes from the Fra Cristobal Mountains to suitable habitat elsewhere in New Mexico to further secure the species’ future. This represented the first time that desert sheep have been restored to private property and managed so successfully to serve as a “donor population” for range-wide recovery efforts.
Management of sheep (and mountain lions) is now coordinated by the Armendaris Ranch operating under an agreement with NMDGF. In 2012, five mountain lions were lethally removed from the system. Trophy ram hunts were implemented in 2012.