If you’re like me, you get a kick out of Allstate’s “Mayhem” commercials on TV. Our Nebraska Game and Parks Commission crew got to see true mayhem Tuesday when a 60-foot-square net was dropped on about 60 bighorn sheep.
About as many people, including 19 from Nebraska, sprinted from cover and worked their tails off to quickly blindfold, hobble and untangle those sheep from the dogpile under the net. Put simply, there was a lot of hair in there.
It all happened at the foot of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, part of a relocation effort to bolster Nebraska’s sheep population. If you missed my first blog on this effort Monday, you can read about it here. They figured getting the sheep under the net would be easy after working around them the previous day and it was. The sheep would’ve walked on top of the net when it was reset if staff hadn’t hazed them off it. It was literally 4 minutes from when preparations were complete to when the net dropped.
Once untangled, most of the sheep, each being held down by a biologist or volunteer, remained calm until it was their turn to go though the process of getting fitted with ear tags and poked and prodded for a host of genetic and disease tests. About three and one-half hours after the rodeo began, 40 sheep were all loaded into horse trailers and headed south toward Nebraska.
But the stress, combined with unseasonably warm temperatures at the mine, was more than three sheep could handle: two died on site and one on the way back to Nebraska. No one wanted to see that. The professionals knew the risks from the start. The volunteers were warned in a pre-trapping meeting but the consultant leading the effort: If you don’t want to see something like that, he said, go home now. But if you want to help restore a population of sheep to its native range, this is the type of thing you do.
This morning we rolled back into the Cornhusker State, opened the doors to those trailers and watched those sheep scramble into their new home in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge northeast of Harrison, 1,300 miles from their old one. For our crew, watching those sheep head for the hills was the reward for a long but very worthwhile and fulfilling journey that began a week ago and covered 4,000 miles for those of us from eastern Nebraska.
“Thirty five years ago, I was in school hoping to do just what we were doing today,” said Mike Remund of Tecumseh, who, along with Dean Studnicka of Crawford, I covered those miles with in a 1-ton pickup. “This was way cooler than I thought it was going to be.”
I, on the other hand, had no idea I’d be covering a story like this when I was bitten by the journalism bug 20-plus years ago. While my back side might not agree, you can bet I’m glad I got the assignment.
You can read a bit more about the release here and a few video snippets from the capture on our YouTube page. I’ll have a story in NEBRASKAland in April. Or check out David Hendee’s story and Alyssa Shukar’s photos and videos at Omaha.com.
But if you want a real treat, lace up your hiking boots and head to the Pine Ridge or the Wildcat Hills to see the result of 30 years of bighorn sheep restoration efforts. Seeing a bighorn sheep running wild in Nebraska is pretty cool.