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HUNTERS FOR THE CONSERVATION

CONSERVATION PROGRAM OF DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP
(Ovis canadensis weemsi), IN CARMEN ISLAND, BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR, MEXICO


By Sergio Jiménez
Mexico Hunts; Ovis Mexico


The Desert Bighorn Sheep is a species that has great importance in the cultural, ecological and economic aspects in México and southern USA. Because the population decrease was caused by human activities, at this moment this species is in a category of Special Protection based on Mexican laws.

Considering this problem, in October 1995, the Organization Vida Silvestre A.C. (Ovis, Mex), and Salinas del Pacífico, S.A. de C. V. (Mexico Hunts) initiated a project with the objective to help the recovery of the populations in Baja California Sur through the reproduction of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in a safe place with suitable habitat, and this place is Carmen Island, in the sea of Cortes or Gulf of California.

Carmen Island is situated in the Sea of Cortés, 14.5 km off the municipality of Loreto in Baja California Sur, has a surface of 15,000 hectares.

In December of 1995 the Mexican Federal government authorized the first capture-release of 13 sheep (11 females and 2 males). This first capture took place in the South portion of the Sierra El Mechudo. A year later, in December 1996, the second capture-release was made, 13 sheep (11 females and 2 males) this one in the North portion of the Sierra El Mechudo. Once the accomplishment of these two introductions was completed, the initial stock of 26 animals, the reproductive population of Desert Bighorn Sheep in Carmen Island was established.

The objectives of the introduction of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in Carmen Island are:

  • To contribute in the recovery of the existing populations of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in Baja California Sur by the reintroduction of animals born in Carmen Island.
  • To develop a sustainable program of the species in Carmen Island, allowing the continuity to the conservation program and allowing and developing restocking activities in mainland Baja California Sur.

    Results
    Before the introduction of sheep to the island, through a computational program, the population growth was predicted for the following 10 years. It was estimated that the population would be of 175 individuals; however, the ecological characteristics of the Island have benefited the species in their development with greater success than the anticipated. As a matter of fact, in 2006 the size of the population was considered as 250 individuals and now we have an estimate of 450. It has been a great success in reproduction rate and also producing excellent trophies from the hunting point of view.

    Finally, after years of work growing the breeding stock in Carmen Island, in February 2005, the objective of re-stocking mainland with sheep produced in the island was reached. The first capture-release of sheep produced in the Island for re-stocking mainland was conducted and 7 females and 3 males were released. After this, in September 2006 and later in October 2007 two more successfully capture-releases were conducted. Thirty sheep (21 females and 9 males) and twenty-five sheep (18 females and 7 males) were released respectively. At the present time, a total of 65 animals have been released, exceeding by 2.5 times the number of animals that were captured to start the breeding stock. All reintroductions took place in the southern portion of the historical distribution of sheep in southern Baja. In order to evaluate the success of the liberations of the Desert Bighorn Sheep in the peninsular territory, tracking with telemetry equipment and "direct observation" have been developed through all these years. The surveys allow us to determining the survival of released sheep, their distribution, displacements and integration to other resident groups. It is considered that the reintroductions have been very successful, more than 85% of the released sheep have been located through the years and some of the rest have been reported by observation of local people in the northern portion of the range.

    A successful sustainable program
    There is no true conservation if we don't have a well established harvesting program. In 2004 as part of the conservation and management plan of Desert Bighorn Sheep in Carmen Island, authorization for sport hunting of this species was requested by Mexico Hunts to the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Mexican Federal Agency dedicated to wildlife). Finally two tags were authorized for March - April 2005. Clayton Williams was the first hunter in Carmen Island and he harvested a tremendous 182 points ram. The hunting quota in Carmen Island has been increasing during the years, At this date, a total of 40 rams have been harvested with the participation of hunters and huntresses using rifle, black powder or bow, achieving all of them trophies of excellent quality and keeping a success rate of 100% with all different weapons used.

    With this program Organización Vida Silvestre, A.C. (OVIS) and Mexico Hunts have obtained economic resources to finance the operation of this conservation project, covering the expenses of producing sheep, all the translocation and monitoring expenses and at the same time increasing the quality level of trophies. Theses activities and the correct management planning have allowed the program to continue, and consolidating a true self-sufficient conservation program supported by hunters.

    Contribution of the program to education
    For OVIS and Mexico Hunts it's important to contribute in the formation of professional wildlife managers, for this reason it counts on the participation of students that develop their professional thesis and conclude their academic degrees in Carmen Island. On the other hand, the publication of all information generated in these studies contributes to the knowledge of biological and ecological aspects of the Desert Bighorn Sheep, as well as the flora and fauna present in Carmen Island. All this information is very important for the development of the correct management plans in the island and can be used in mainland as well.

    Ecological benefits
    The development of this Desert sheep management program in Carmen Island, has offered protection to all the resident and migratory species present in Carmen Island. Working as an "umbrella" species, the complete habitat in Carmen Island has been benefited through the management and administration of OVIS and Mexico Hunts.

    Vision for the future
    It is our mission to continue with this conservation program that has aided increasing the wild populations of sheep through the reintroductions made and also opens a great opportunity to sportsmen to achieve their goal of getting a Desert bighorn sheep trophy and many times to finish their collection of the North American Grand Slam.


    Anna Norris took this ram with a bow in October 2008. The trophy scores 167 2/8.



    These sheep were captured on Carmen island and transported to the mainland to be released in historical desert sheep range as part of our conservation program.



    Carmen Island Lodge is where we receive our hunters and fishermen.



    Eduardo Gerlero took this ram with a rifle in February 2009. I scores 173 6/8.



    A view of Carmen Island's mountainous terrain.



    Carmen Island is the perfect sheep factory.



    Another look at Carmen Island Lodge.



    An ocean view from the peaks on Carmen Island.



    Ewes from Carmen Island



    Ewes in the wilds of Carmen Island.



    One of the rams on Carmen Island.



    Sid Strzok' s ram, taken in April 2009, scores 173 6/8.



    Jerry Tyrrell killed this ram in January 2009. It scores 175 1/8.


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