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• See a photo showcase of the capture and the sheep's journey to Nebraska.
LINCOLN — Other than wandering down county roads and suffering a few cuts from encounters with barbed-wire fences, Nebraska's new bighorn sheep herd from Canada is adapting to life in the Pine Ridge.
"They're learning quickly about fences, mostly navigating them by going under the bottom wire," said Todd Nordeen of Alliance, Neb., the commission's Panhandle wildlife manager.
Nordeen updated Nebraska Game and Parks commissioners Friday on the bighorn relocation project that brought 40 bighorns from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska a month ago. One ewe died shortly after arrival.
"They're doing pretty well,'' Nordeen said.
The 34 ewes and five rams were released at two sites a few miles apart on the Sowbelly Ranch northeast of Harrison. The two groups quickly found each other and have been traveling back and forth across rugged canyons, Nordeen said.
All the sheep were outfitted with tracking devices on collars after their capture in Canada's Rocky Mountains. State biologists monitor the animals' whereabouts daily.
One ram wandered three or four miles east before turning around and following his trail back to the herd, Nordeen said.
"This has been a good bunch of sheep for setting up home and not taking off too far," Nordeen said.
The Canadian imports are western Nebraska's fifth herd of wild bighorns and boost the state's wild sheep population to more than 340. There are two other herds in the Pine Ridge and two in the Wildcat Hills.
Bighorns are an at-risk species in Nebraska because they are susceptible to certain diseases.
The ewes weighed an average of 166 pounds, about 20 to 30 pounds heavier than bighorns in the other four herds, imported over the last 30 years from South Dakota, Colorado and Montana.
Nordeen said the extra weight provides no additional assurance of survival but will add genetic diversity when the new animals eventually intermingle with a herd at nearby Fort Robinson State Park.
The Sowbelly herd is the second group placed on private land with landowner approval. Program funding comes exclusively from donations and more than $1 million raised from periodic hunting permits sold at auction or by lottery.
Nebraska's goal is to return sheep to the state's historic bighorn habitats.
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