December 16, 2015


wildborderCollaborative efforts of relocating desert bighorn sheep - which includes Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) researchers - are part of a documentary program, “Wild Border”, which premiered on the Discovery Channel in November.

The documentary was produced by The Biscuit Factory of Falls Church, VA. Rob Lyall, director of photography, and freelance producer Isham Randolph, filmed portions of a December 2012 desert bighorn capture at Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area in south Brewster County.

During the aerial capture, 44 desert bighorn were taken from the Elephant Mountain WMA and relocated to the 9 Point Mesa, about 30 miles away. The goal of the ongoing project, under the direction of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), is to restore the desert bighorn population to 3,000 animals throughout eight mountain ranges in West Texas.

The program documents this project, along with other collaborative conservation efforts that extend to bi-national cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico in native species restoration.

“It’s (documentary) about bi-national conservation efforts in the Chihuahuan Desert region and this (bighorn) translocation is one part,” said Randolph, speaking with Sul Ross News and Publications representative Steve Lang in 2012. Randolph’s credits include producing series for The National Geographic Explorer.

“This story embodies that reintroduction of this iconic species,” Randolph said. “It may be a model for relocation to private lands.”

Randolph emphasized the collaboration of state agencies like TPWD, university research (BRI), private landowners, and non-profit organizations like the Texas Bighorn Society, as integral to the project’s success. The documentary includes interviews with key participants, including Dr. Louis Harveson, Sul Ross professor of Natural Resource Management and director of the BRI, and BRI researcher Thomas Janke.

Along with The Biscuit Factory partner Molly Hermann, Lyall has created programs for clients including National Geographic, Discovery Channel, HBO Original Films, Smithsonian Channel, The History Channel, BBC and others.

Desert bighorn, estimated at 3,000 animals in the mid-19th century, virtually vanished from the region by the late 1950s. Probable causes were the introduction of domestic sheep and goats to the region, along with related diseases, net-wire fencing and unregulated hunting.

Restoration efforts began over 50 years ago, starting in Black Gap WMA, which borders Big Bend National Park. Desert bighorn were brought in from other states to begin, and the population has rebounded to nearly 1,500. By the year 2000, surplus animals were located to other sites.

The Borderlands Research Institute has been active in data collection through the use of radio and satellite collars. The research evaluates the success of the restoration, examining dispersal, mortality, and site fidelity (determining if the bighorn remain in the general area where released).

“Wild Border”, which also features BRI’s mountain lion research in west Texas, has aired twice since its US debut in November.  Keep an eye on your local listings to view rebroadcasts on the Discovery Channel or its affiliates, or you can watch the show online here.