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Bighorn Sheep Herded Up Very Quietly

December 4, 1985

MOUNT BALDY, Calif. (AP) _ State Fish and Game officials captured 22 Nelson bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains in what might be called a very hush-hush operation.

Not that Tuesday’s capture and today’s planned release of the sheep in the Los Padres National Forest was any big secret.

The biologists, veterinarians and others handling the sheep transfer spent the day whispering, tiptoeing and hiding behind rocks because that’s what’s best for the animals.

″The biggest fear you have in losing a sheep is just tension,″ said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Susan Marzec, adding that the best way to reduce their stress is to cover their eyes and keep the noise down.

″At the capture site and the processing site, there’s more whispering than anything else,″ Ms. Marzec said.

About 700 sheep graze the hillsides of the San Gabriel Mountains, a fact little known to most flatland residents, she said.

″Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the nation, and right next to it is one of the largest bighorn sheep herds cohabitating, so to speak,″ Ms. Marzec said.

While the sheep are not on any endangered list, California Fish and Game officials consider them a ″watched-over species,″ meaning there’s a potential threat from their urban neighbors, she said.

But the San Gabriel Mountains herd, the state’s biggest, has grown so large that the mountain slopes may not be able to support it. So state officials decided to capture some and move them to the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, where the nimble mountain climbers were last spotted in 1915, Ms. Marzec said.

The sandy-gray, 100-pound mammals were caught in a large net placed over an area baited with apple mulch, a delicacy to sheep, Ms. Marzec said.

After the net was released, the crew emerged from hiding places behind rocks and trees, covered the animals’ eyes and hobbled them for helicopter transport to a processing site.

There, whispering veterinarians weighed, measured and vaccinated the animals and attached radio collars to 15 of them for future monitoring.

They were trucked to holding pens in the Los Padres National Forest, where crew members held them overnight to calm them down before releasing them in a remote area. The move cost about $3,000 per animal.

The new herd in Los Padres will be the sixth to be re-established in the state, where many of the animals have been killed by disease or illegal hunting.

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