Big Bend National Park Must Cull More Aoudad Sheep to Protect Native Bighorns

by Jon D. B.
Bighorn and Aoudad sheep. (Photo credit: Getty Images, Outsider)

Texas’ Big Bend National Park has a sheep problem, and the only cure is helicopter-aided invasive aoudad control.

Aoudads, or Barbary sheep, are not native to North America. In fact, they’re indigenous to the northern portion of Africa. But here we are in 2022, a time when aoudads thrive in rugged West Texas – including Big Bend.

“Over the last 30 years, Barbary sheep have established a foothold within the park and have increased significantly in recent years,” the national park explains in their Oct. 6 media release. “Hundreds now roam the area, but the park is home to only a tiny population of native desert bighorn sheep.”

That now “tiny” population of bighorns is, in part, due to the thriving of the aoudads. Already teetering on the brink of extinction throughout the 20th century, desert bighorn sheep now must compete with non-native barbary sheep for resources. But Big Bend National Park isn’t about to let these iconic Texas animals disappear on account of an invasive species.

Big Bend National Park is home to a small population of Desert Bighorn Sheep (left) and hundreds of Aoudad (right). (Photo credit: NPS media release)

Throughout the week of October 10th, the National Park Service (NPS) will continue with measures to protect bighorns in Big Bend National Park. And this means reducing the population of non-native aoudad (Barbary sheep).

‘It’s a bad time to be a barbary sheep in Big Bend National Park’

“Beginning on October 11, the NPS will partner with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to survey for native bighorn and to remove invasive Barbary sheep,” NPS explains.

To do so, officials will utilize helicopters and staff trained in aerial shooting operations. Which, yes, means culling this invasive species from the park. In short, it’s a bad time to be a barbary sheep in Big Bend National Park.

As a result, Big Bend’s remote Deadhorse Mountains and surrounding areas (including the Dagger Flat Road and Old Ore Road) will close to public entry. All areas will reopen once culling operations are completed, “so please follow posted closure signs for trailheads and roads,” the park asks.

“This effort is part of Big Bend’s long-term, integrated approach to control exotic animals and protect park resources. Management of aoudad is in keeping with the Big Bend Exotic Animal Management Plan and Environmental Assessment, finalized in June, 2018,” park officials continue.

Exotic, invasive species have become a widespread issue in the United States. And as Big Bend cites, aoudad culling will not only benefit bighorns but the park’s natural ecology, as well. “Large groups of aoudad can prevent desert bighorn from accessing water, threaten biodiversity, and impair park visitors’ ability to experience natural conditions and scenery,” their media release concludes. 

For more on the park’s bighorns, their struggle, and fellow wildlife, see our Big Bend National Park Wildlife: Animals You’ll Spot, Including Venomous Species, in Incredibly Diverse Park next.