DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP RESEARCH
A Brief History of Texas Bighorns
Historically, native desert bighorn sheep occupied 15-16 mountain ranges in the Trans-Pecos region. In the 1880s, an estimated 1,500 bighorns inhabited these mountain ranges and possibly as many as 2,500 prior to 1880.
However, by the mid-1940s they had disappeared from much of their native mountain ranges. By the early 1960s Texas’ native bighorns had been extirpated. Their demise was attributed to unregulated hunting, the introduction of domestic sheep and goats that competed with bighorns for resources, diseases from domestic sheep and goats that bighorns had not been exposed to, and net-wire fencing that impeded natural movements in search of food and water.
By the 1960s native desert bighorn sheep populations were extirpated from the Trans-Pecos.
Protective measures were taken as early as 1903 with the prohibition of bighorn hunting and later with the establishment of the Sierra Diablo WMA (1945), a sanctuary for the few remaining bighorns. A cooperative agreement in 1954 between the Arizona Game and Fish Commission; Boone and Crockett Club; Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and the Wildlife Management Institute marked the beginning of the restoration efforts in Texas. These efforts focused primarily on captive propagation. The first facility was constructed on Black Gap WMA and was stocked with 16 desert bighorn sheep from Arizona in 1959. Additional facilities were constructed at the Sierra Diablo WMA in 1970 and 1983, and Chilicote Ranch in 1977.
Today, desert bighorns are coming back to their historic mountain ranges. Greatly in part to decades of work by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, various state agencies including Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, as well as wildlife conservation groups such as Texas Bighorn Society, Wild Sheep Foundation, and Dallas Safari Club.
Private landowners have been and continue to be the driving force behind the success of restoration efforts and management of desert bighorn sheep in west Texas.