Efforts in Zion Canyon underway to protect native bighorn sheep herdsWith support from the Zion Forever Project and the Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Zion National Park captured and GPS-collared 17 bighorn sheep in the park in November. This project helps protect the health of the bighorn sheep herd in Zion Canyon by reducing the risk of a catastrophic pneumonia outbreak.

Domestic sheep and goats can carry pneumonia without being sick from it. Contact between wild and domestic sheep can infect a bighorn sheep herd, resulting in large-scale die-off and years of reduced lambing. One of the risk factors for die-offs to occur is a dense and expanding bighorn sheep herd like the one living in Zion Canyon.

All of the bighorn sheep captured were tested for pneumonia, and the test came back clear of the concerning pathogens. On December 12–14, sheep from the Zion herd will be captured and transplanted to the San Juan County area to bolster the sheep herd there. This effort supports statewide and regional efforts to protect the Zion Canyon herd by reducing its density and rate of expansion and supporting genetic diversity and herd health elsewhere in the state.

Multiple groups are making this project possible with the common goal of keeping healthy bighorn sheep herds in a healthy landscape. The Zion Forever Project’s Adopt a Sheep program has provided critical funding for this operation, including the collection of data from the GPS-collared sheep to improve bighorn management in the park. Over 4,000 park visitors have supported this project by purchasing a plush sheep from Zion Forever Project at the park’s store or online.

“Protecting the health of these iconic animals is a priority and our responsibility as stewards of Zion,” said Mark Preiss, director of Zion National Park Forever Project. “We’re grateful for the outpouring of support our Adopt a Sheep program has received in helping herd conservation efforts by Zion and our partners. The surprise of spotting strong and healthy bighorn sheep is part of the Zion visitor experience — an experience we want to share with generations of visitors yet to come.”

In addition to the Forever Project, the Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep has provided funding and support for Zion Canyon herd conservation. Also a key factor is the cooperation between the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Zion National Park. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has provided a helicopter crew, navigating aircraft in the Zion Canyon environment to make the capture possible. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will transport the Zion Canyon herd bighorns to their new home in the San Juan mountains.

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