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.
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.
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.
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.