ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK — Thirty bighorn sheep will find themselves in a new home after park officials rounded up some of the animals Tuesday on Antelope Island.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Division of Parks and Recreation will relocate the group of mostly females, a few lambs and yearling males to the mountains east of Oak City in central Utah, said Phil Douglass, the DWR's wildlife conservation outreach manager of northern Utah.
After some previous fires on the mountain, Douglass said the habitat is now returning, and officials are looking to establish a herd in the area.
"I just felt that there was suitable habitat in that area," he said.
Officials used a helicopter to capture the animals, which Douglass said is necessary because bighorn sheep live in steep, rocky terrain. The helicopter would fly close to the animals, with a "mugger" sitting on one side with a net gun.
"When the animal gets entangled, then the helicopter circles back around, (the mugger) jumps out and untangles the animal, gets it stabilized quickly by putting hobbles on it, and they put a hood on the animal," Douglass said.
The hobbles and hood are used to reduce the stress of the sheep, he said.
The bighorn sheep were also vaccinated, received a general health assessment and had their blood drawn on Antelope Island before being transferred.
Douglass said Antelope Island is ideal to raise the "nursery herd" of about 200 bighorn sheep.
"It's a good place for the animals to raise their young, and then we can come in and take some of those excess animals and transport them to other areas where we want to establish or bolster the herd in other parts of the state," he said.
The transplant will not only help create a population of bighorn sheep near Oak City, but it will also keep the herd at a healthy population for the resources of the island, Douglass said.