Twenty-nine desert bighorn sheep were released in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson Monday morning as part of the state Game and Fish Department's effort to re-establish a herd there.
Twenty-three ewes and six rams were turned loose in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area around 7 a.m. They jumped one by one from a Game and Fish trailer and ran into the desert brush. The animals were expected to join more than 40 other sheep that have been released or were born in the area in the last two years.
The latest group of sheep came from the Yuma area. They were captured and transported over the weekend.
Thirty sheep were rounded up, but one ram was not released Monday, held back to be evaluated for "capture exhaustion," said Mark Hart, a spokesman for Game and Fish. He said the sheep was at a clinic in Phoenix.
Officials originally planned the release for Tuesday, but moved it up one day because workers had "great success in capturing 30," Hart said, and because they wanted to get animals out of confinement and back into the wild.
A number of bighorns released into the Pusch Ridge area in the last two years have died. Some were killed by mountain lions, and others were felled by pneumonia, which officials have said is a recurrent problem among bighorns.
"These sheep should have some resistance to the disease, but we can’t say categorically that they are immune," Hart said.
All of the sheep were evaluated by veterinarians, and Hart said it is likely some of the ewes released Monday are pregnant.