Bighorn sheep in the Panhandle are sporting some new hardware, thanks to the work of a helicopter capture crew, wildlife professionals and volunteers.

South Dakota State University joined the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in capturing and processing 44 sheep Thursday, Friday and Saturday — 28 in the Wildcat Hills near McGrew and 16 at three locations in the Pine Ridge near Chadron and Crawford.

“The bighorn sheep capture went well, and we’ll be looking forward to the data-collection results in the months ahead,” said Todd Nordeen, big game disease and research program manager.

Wildlife professionals have ramped up monitoring efforts in recent years to combat disease issues with Nebraska’s bighorn sheep. All captured sheep were released on-site.

The sheep that were released received new tracking collars and ear tags, in addition to undergoing a series of tissue samples and vaccinations. The ewes in both the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills were not only fitted with new collars and tags but also with vaginal implant transmitters.

Carrying sheep

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission board member Doug Zingula joins staff members and volunteers in retrieving a ewe from the helicopter for processing at Williams Gap Wildlife Management Area. Also carrying the stretcher are Jacob Newth, Max Tritt and Devan Oligmueller.

The latter devices, which were employed the past two years in each region, signal exactly when ewes give birth so researchers can put temporary tracking collars on lambs. The capability to closely monitor the lambs helps identify the cause of death for any that perish in their first months of life.

This year concludes the two-year study conducted by South Dakota State and UNL that looked at mortality and habitat use from herds in both the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills of western Nebraska.

“It has been a great project, and the information gathered will help guide managers with future direction for bighorn sheep in the state,” Nordeen said.

A team of about 50 people was involved with the project and its preparations.

The team consisted of personnel from Game and Parks, South Dakota State, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, the Lincoln Zoo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Alliance Animal Clinic. Chadron State College students also joined the effort in the Pine Ridge.

Funding and support for the project has come through Pittman-Robertson federal aid grants, the Nebraska Big Game Society and chapters of the Wild Sheep Foundation.

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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