DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP were nonexistent in the mountainous regions of Sierra El Alamo in Sonora, Mexico 30 years ago. At the time of this writing 100 desert bighorns have been released onto open range there, bringing an iconic part of the Mexican culture back to prominence.
The Sierra El Alamo restoration effort is a cooperative effort of landowner Javier Artee and family, the Wild Sheep Foundation, Dallas Safari Club Foundation and other concerned hunter-conservationists.
“Desert bighorn sheep are an important part of our culture in Mexico,” said Jacob Artee. “My family is proud to play a role in repatriating these animals for the people of Sonora, Mexico.”
These sheep are raised in a large high-fenced area and released onto open range as they are acclimated and optimal release locations are secured.
“This project is a shining example of the people of Mexico’s commitment to sheep conservation,” said Clay Brewer, conservation director of The Wild Sheep Foundation.
“The Artee family and all of those involved with the project as well as the community as a whole have really come together to do something historic and important for bighorns in an area that was once a stronghold for them.”
Brewer was longtime director of the Texas desert bighorn program which has seen the population soar from 40 in 1975 to 1,500, which is the estimated population in 2019.
“What is happening in Mexico is as exciting as what started happening in Texas in the 1980s and 90s,” Brewer said. “These dedicated landowners and conservationists are making sheep conservation happen along the border. This project not only brings sheep back to the mountains, but is bringing like-minded hunters, landowners and conservationists together as well.”
The goal is to release 200 desert bighorns into the area and to manage them for maximum population as well as eventual hunting opportunities.
“The ability to make these transplants happen on free range ranches in Mexico with minimal red tape is a great way to move the needle and restore desert bighorns to their native ranges” said WSF president Gray Thornton. “WSF is honored to work alongside these visionary landowners and conservationists,”
Desert bighorns have been an important part of Southwest lore for thousands of years. Pictographs and petroglyphs depicting these great animals adorn rocks in Mexico, Texas and New Mexico.
It’s not known how valuable they were as a food or sport animal to ancient people. However, these ancient etchings show people in the desert Southwest have always held bighorns in high regard.
This legacy continues with the Sierra El Alamo project.
After traveling into Mexico to pick up these desert bighorn sheep, New Mexico Game and Fish biologists made it back safely to the U.S. border and into New Mexico to Red Rock Wildlife Area and Breeding facility.
—story by CHESTER MOORE