NATIVE DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP (OVIS CANADENSIS) roamed Carlsbad Caverns when it became a national monument in 1923 and seven years later when the Congress designated the area, a national park. However, in the 1940s a combination of excessive hunting, competition with other species, and diseases introduced by domestic livestock resulted in elimination of bighorn sheep from the park (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 2003). At the same time, a private ranching operation in the Hondo Valley of New Mexico, northeast of the Guadalupe Mountains, introduced Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), a native of arid environments in northern Africa. Animals from this ranch began escaping into the countryside in 1943. By 1950, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish had introduced Barbary sheep into several areas of the state with the intent that this drought-resistant exotic might be a desirable substitute for New Mexico’s beleaguered native bighorn sheep in areas that the desert bighorn did not inhabit or from which they had been extirpated (Ogren 1965). In 1959, Barbary sheep were first recorded in Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Laing 2003).
Resource managers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park suspect that the founders of the park’s exotic herd were escaped sheep from the Hondo Valley ranch. In 2004, they conducted an inventory of the three species of ungulates that inhabit the park: two native—mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and collared peccary (Pecari tajacu angulatus), and one nonnative—Barbary sheep (figs. 1–3). A long-term goal of the National Park Service is to reestablish bighorn sheep in Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas), to the southwest of Carlsbad Caverns (fig. 4, below). Managers at both parks are investigating the possibility of eliminating Barbary sheep and restoring desert bighorn. Results of this survey provide a baseline from which to evaluate the removal of Barbary sheep from, and the restoration of desert bighorn sheep to, Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish 2003).
Figure 4. Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico) and Guadalupe Mountains (Texas) national parks were once home to native bighorn sheep. The National Park Service is studying the potential for restoring this species, which has been displaced by introduced Barbary sheep.
“Resource managers … suspect that the founders of the park’s exotic herd were escaped sheep from the Hondo Valley ranch.”
Novack, A., K. Fuhrmann, K. Dorman-Johnson, and S. Bartell. 2009. Research Report: Distribution and abundance of Barbary sheep and other ungulates in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Park Science 26(2):92–98.
Available at https://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience26(2)Fall2009_92-98_Novack_et_al_2665.pdf.