SCISUN: Now that Gets our Goat   Leave a comment

As more and more people and cars and buildings move into areas where wildlife have lived for generations, it’s important for scientists, researchers and educators to understand how human impact affects wildlife and their environment. So as not to disturb them more than they already are (imagine waking up one morning and finding your flower-field has been turned into a parking lot!), research is done as much as possible through non-invasive methods – photography and sound recording; following and measuring tracks, abandoned nests and other sleeping areas; studying poop (it’s all in the poop!); and other signs. But occasionally, it’s important to get more hands-on information, and that’s where trapping, examining, releasing and long-term study of individual animals or animal populations comes into use. It’s also the exciting part they show on the wildlife TV programs. You never see anyone studying poop on those programs.

In areas of the Nevada and Southern California desert, recently it was time for scientists to look closely at the populations of Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis), a unique type of ungulate (meaning animals, like a horse or cow, that stand and walk on the tips of their toes, which we know as hoofs). These sheep generally live in remote, hard-to-reach mountain and desert areas where they eat grass and other plants, travel in small groups, or herds, and generally mind their own business. Some sheep populations are so well adapted to harsh and rocky environments they can travel up and down hillsides and mountains at very steep angles, on loose and crumbling rock, and along ledges only a few inches wide.

Bighorn helicopter BLM

“Next flight, I am DEFINITELY upgrading from that ‘super-saver’ ticket.”

Today, particularly in Southern California and areas around Las Vegas, where human activity is increasing every day, these sheep are feeling particular stress and scientists are concerned the sheep might not be behaving naturally and some populations may be threatened. So, to better understand the stresses these animals face: From human pressures; to searching for food and water; to predator activity; scientists and researchers trap sheep, usually using a large, strong net dropped from a helicopter; give the animals a light sedative to relax and calm them; and transport each sheep to a nearby base camp where they are measured, weighed, examined for any health issues, and fitted with a fashionable radio collar. Then each sheep is secured back in the net and airlifted to the same area where it was found, where it’s lowered to the ground and, once recovered from the sedative, released into the wilderness. The entire process only takes about an hour, and there are veterinarians and sheep experts at every step to make certain the animals are healthy and safe.

Sure”, you say, “but isn’t all this catching-and flying-and measuring-and radio collaring, also stressful to the sheep? Why don’t they just leave them alone?” Well, all that work probably does cause stress and the sheep probably would prefer it didn’t happen. But without the research and knowledge scientists gain from these sheep, and other animals who are also carefully netted and released, entire populations or even species of animals could become extinct, gone forever. And just thinking of that possibility, really gets our goat.


Michonne Says: “I don’t know about any of this, but I don’t think sheeps can fly. And nets are bad. I have nothing else to say about this.”

Posted January 6, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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