News & Events

Biologists move Antelope Island bighorn sheep via helicopter

January 11, 2018
Josh Pollock, left, takes a blood sample from a bighorn sheep as volunteers restrain and measure the ram on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, on Antelope Island. Biologists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are capturing 30 rams on Antelope Island and relocating them to Southern Utah.

Story and photos by BENJAMIN ZACK • Standard-Examiner staff

ANTELOPE ISLAND — Wes Livingston estimates that only around 20 people in the country have the same job as him.

Considering that he gets paid to hop out of helicopters and tackle wild animals, that number is fairly high.

Livingston, a “mugger” and Wyoming native, is in Utah working on a project with the Division of Wildlife Resources moving bighorn sheep from Antelope Island to Southern Utah.

On Friday, Jan. 5, biologists and volunteers gathered on the south end of the island at a makeshift workstation with gear spread out on folding tables and truck tailgates.

Several miles away, Livingston and his coworkers flew low over the island in a small helicopter. From the air, they pick out bighorn rams, shoot them with a net gun and hop out to “mug” and tie up the captured animals. Once the large animals are restrained, the pilot flies back across the island, sheep dangling in bags beneath the helicopter.

Chad Wilson, left, and Mark Stanger release a bighorn sheep from a bag used to move the animal during a relocation project on Antelope Island on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Around 150-200 live on the island. Biologists regularly remove some of the animals in order to keep the population in check and boost other herds around the state.

 

The whole operation is part of a project to increase bighorn sheep numbers around the state.

“The bighorn sheep on Antelope Island is used as a source population to help out and stimulate other populations throughout the state,” said Eric Anderson, a DWR wildlife biologist.

Thanks to their isolation and the relative lack of predators or hunting, the bighorn sheep herd on the island is healthy and quickly growing.

“With bighorn sheep here and the recent fire, we’re going to try and reduce the population just a little bit,” said Anderson.

A helicopter transports bighorn sheep across Antelope Island on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. A team of "muggers" capture the sheep with a net gun, tie up their legs, place them in bags and suspend them form the bottom of a helicopter. They are then transferred to a work location where crews measure and examine the rams before loading them into a trailer for transport to Southern Utah.

Anderson and other biologists hope to capture 30 bighorn rams and move them to the mountains east of Delta, Utah. After the helicopter ride, but before the trip down south, each captured ram is examined by biologists, given antibiotics and fitted with ear tags or radio collars.

Livingston and his team mugged and moved 15 rams on the first Friday of the year. They plan on capturing another 15 later in the month.