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Jan 24, 2014 5:28 PM

Game and Fish: Mountain lions kill 3 more bighorn

TUCSON - Three more bighorn sheep have been killed by mountain lions, Game and Fish reported Friday.

These last two deaths bring the population of relocated sheep to 22, Arizona Game and Fish spokesman Mark Hart said in a release.

A total of 8 have died since their release into the Pusch Ridge wilderness on Nov. 8. Of those deaths, 7 have been as a result of mountiain lions.

Game and Fish have so far killed two mountain lions they believe to be responsible for the sheep deaths.

Here are the details of the 8 deaths, according to a release sent by Arizona Game and Fish:

On January 15, 2014, an adult ewe (ID #64) was found on the border of Habitat Blocks 31 (fair) and 32 (poor). This is just south and west of Ski Valley and the location was within the Aspen fire burn area. The area is characterized by substantial rock outcroppings and borders thicker vegetation. This sheep had been in this area since shortly after the release. Investigators concluded that the cause of the mortality was due to predation. Pursuit of the offending mountain lion was initiated but the lion was not located.

On January 11, 2014, an adult ewe (ID #45) was found in Habitat Block 40 (fair). In general, the area was characterized by steep cliffs and rock outcroppings. Dense oak and grass sporadically covered the ravine where the sheep was discovered. Investigation of the scene determined that the cause of death was predation by a mountain lion. There was a significant delay in locating the carcass due to collar satellite uplink issues. A preliminary investigation was done on foot on January 5, 2014. Although investigators were close to the last known location and subsequent mortality location, they were unable to get a signal or find the sheep, suggesting that the sheep had left the area which was later determined to not be the case. The sheep carcass was likely moved, perhaps while it was fed upon by a lion, and the collar was eventually positioned in a way that allowed for a successful uplink of locational data. Once a satellite transmission was received it was apparent that the sheep was dead and had been in the same location for several days. Due to the time lapse, pursuit of the lion was not initiated.

On January 8, 2014, an adult ewe (ID #61) was found on the south face of the Catalina Mountains in Esperero Canyon, on the border between habitat blocks 59 and 60. These blocks both ranked as fair because of the housing component in each although the terrain is steep and rugged. On the hike to the site, a Department investigator discovered lion scat with what is believed to be sheep hair in it, estimated to be approximately 2-3 days old and lion tracks heading towards Tucson. Mountain lion sightings are common in the foothills and other parts of Tucson close to wildlife corridors such as the Pantano wash. Assessment of the mortality location confirmed that the sheep had been killed by a mountain lion. In considering the totality of the kill location and the age of the kill, the Department determined that pursuit of the offending lion would likely be futile so it was not initiated.

On January 3, 2014, an adult ewe (ID #46) was found south of the Biosphere, in an area characterized by low elevation hills and mesquite scrub. This area is rated as "fair" (block 8) according to the Cunningham/Hansen habitat suitability model. When this ewe was released on November 18th, 2013, she moved north and approached Highway 77 before turning southeast and settling in near the Biosphere. Based on GPS locations, this ewe appeared to be alone and did not demonstrate extensive movement. Managers checked on this sheep 3 weeks ago and observed that it was in good condition. After receiving a mortality signal from the collar, the ensuing investigation concluded that the ewe had been killed by a mountain lion. Subsequent pursuit of the lion by the Department's houndsman was unsuccessful and discontinued due to lack of certainty that the offending lion could be identified.
On December 9, 2013, an adult ewe (ID #38) was found in low quality habitat (block 40) characterized by thick vegetation that likely limited her ability to detect predators. Investigators determined that the sheep had been killed by a mountain lion. Pursuit of the lion was unsuccessful.

On December 1, 2013, an adult ewe (ID #36) was discovered dead in habitat characterized by low elevation hills and mesquite scrub, and rated as "fair" (block 38). The ewe was in the later stages of pregnancy. On-scene investigators concluded that the ewe had been killed by a mountain lion. The male lion was removed by Department personnel in accordance with the Mountain Lion Management Plan developed explicitly for this project, which allows for the removal of specific lions that have preyed on sheep, with the exception of females with kittens or solitary kittens. The mountain lion's stomach contents confirmed conclusively that the lion had fed on the ewe.

On November 30, 2013, a yearling ewe (ID #50) was discovered in thick vegetation, rated as "fair" (block 41). The ewe was found cached in a small ravine. During the investigation of the scene, the investigating Wildlife Manager was stalked by a mountain lion that remained in close proximity. Fearing for his and the public's safety, the Wildlife Manager was forced to kill the male lion in self defense. An investigation of the sheep carcass and the mountain lion's stomach contents confirmed conclusively that the lion had fed on the ewe.

On November 27, 2013, an adult ram (ID #52) was found in the higher elevations in an area
characterized by dense Manzanita bushes and rated as "fair" (block 39). The ram had been scavenged by
a bear and all indicators pointed towards capture myopathy as the cause of death. Every effort is made
during the capture process to minimize capture related complications, including monitoring and
controlling body temperature, minimizing handling and providing oxygen to the animal, all of which
helps to avoid lactic acid build-up. Capture myopathy is associated with a build-up of lactic acid in the
muscle tissue that can lead to heart failure. Myopathy generally occurs during the first two weeks after
animals are transplanted and released, but lasting effects of capture myopathy can be observed up to four
weeks post release.

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