PALM DESERT, Calif., May 28, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Once reduced to tatters, a local herd of Peninsular bighorn sheep behind the California resort town of Rancho Mirage (near Palm Springs) is now on the road to recovery.
In a recent paper delivered to the Desert Bighorn Council, the Bighorn Institute of Palm Desert (www.bighorninstitute.org) laid out a rare and wonderful success story in the area of human/wildlife interaction. Peninsular bighorn have inhabited the northern Santa Rosa Mountains (NSRM) along the south rim of the Coachella Valley for thousands of years. During the 1950s, urban sprawl reached the NSRM foothills and led to a gradual erosion of the sheep population. By the 1980s, lamb mortality as a result of car accidents, disease, drownings, and consumption of decorative but poisonous flora had reached 90%. Prospects for the herd's very survival were poor.
Then, a miracle. Thanks largely to a prolonged effort by local advocacy groups and the City of Rancho Mirage, a four-mile fence was erected in 2002 around parts of Rancho Mirage to block the sheep's most travelled walkways. The results were nearly instantaneous. Within two years, the Bighorn Institute was unable to confirm a single bighorn death by virtue of human interaction. By 2004, and thanks in part to the Institute's captive breeding program during which some 126 sheep have been released into the wild, the NSRM herd included 25 breeding ewes, a number viewed as sustainable by state and federal wildlife agencies. Since then, the herd has grown slowly but surely and now numbers more than 80 animals.
Peninsular bighorn sheep are among the most iconic animals of the American southwest. Now listed as federally endangered, some 950 bighorn are thought to inhabit ranges from the Coachella Valley to the Mexican border. Although genetically similar to those found in the Rocky Mountains and elsewhere, the local bighorn prefer lower elevations and often descend to the desert floor in search of food and water. Seeing a bighorn in the wild is something that many desert visitors aspire to do.
Founded in 1982, the Bighorn Institute is the only bighorn research and conservation organization in the Coachella Valley. Its success in educating and advocating on behalf of its namesake has been pivotal in generating awareness for the species, and its captive breeding program is the most successful in the country. The Bighorn Institute is located in Palm Desert, California.
Contact: Aimee Byard
SOURCE Bighorn Institute