Earlier this week I interacted with bighorn sheep in a new way.
It's been 15 years or so since Red 42, Yellow 9, and their compatriots were tagged and collared. As always, the information gathered has created more questions, and state wildlife biologists decided it was time to facilitate the collection of more data. We have had a good, diverse group of sheep coming in to a local site (Red 42's old stomping grounds) this winter, so on Monday the troops were gathered for the mammal equivalent of catch and release.
This shot is from the first intense moments of the trapping. (Thanks, Jeff K.) The net has been dropped, and probably 50 volunteers have raced to get the sheep blindfolded (to help them stay calm) and into safe positions so they can be carefully extracted, processed, and released. In a very busy hour, veterinarians, biologists, and "hangers-on" like me (pun intended) were able to tag and collar 38 sheep-- lambs, ewes, and rams. Some ewes got radio collars. All sheep had blood, fecal, and saliva samples taken. They were given antibiotics and vaccinated against lung worm... and turned back loose to roam the hills.
The yearling ewe with me has a new identity about which she certainly cares not at all, but one which will hopefully help us to understand a little bit more about the secret lives of her tribe: Where do they go? How do the groups interact with each other? How do they use the high country along the Continental Divide? We'll learn about how they are coping with lung worm, what strains of bacteria they are tolerating, and if Red 42 is any example, even a little bit about their longevity.
Just for the record.... she's Green 64. And you can be sure my sketchbook and I will be looking out for her, silently saluting her contribution to human curiosity, and wishing her green grass and healthy lambs in the seasons ahead.