Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them

New Mexico Bighorn Sheep
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Jwanamaker

The debate on the reintroduction of carnivores (think wolves) and omnivores (bears) usually focusses on the polarised views of livestock breeders on the one hand and conservationists on the other. But what about hunters? I’ve just been reading an article in the New York Times about hunting sheep which adds a whole new dimension to the discussion. In the US, receipts from sheep hunting permits are used to finance more sheep reintroductions. Could this idea be applied to the Pyrenees?

Evidently the animals being hunted are not the tame creatures of the Bo Peep Nursery Rhyme.  These are bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). Although throughout North America, 2500 of them are killed each year, with 10 million big game hunters in the US there is still a shortage of permits. The avid sheep hunter can either enter a lottery (1:200 chance of a permit) or pay big bucks. The Times reports a record of $480,000 being paid in Montana in 2013!

It isn’t even that the sheep are rare; there are 200,000 in North America (IUCN status: least concern) but having a pair of their magnificent horns on your wall is a status symbol in the world of hunting.

Mouflon, the kind of wild sheep to be seen in the Pyrenees.

From a conservation point of view the sacrifice of one old sheep (the older the sheep, the bigger the horns) is counterbalanced by the massive contribution to the conservation budget. In the Montana case hundreds of thousands of dollars went to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Those strange bedfellows, hunters and conservationists, already work together in the Pyrenees. Could the relationship be even more beneficial?

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