WHO WILL WIN? Shrinking habitats have pit the rare mountain lion (Puma concolor) against the endangered desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). New Mexico plans to raise kill quotas for the lions. Image: TIM DAVIS Photo Researchers, Inc. (left); KEVIN SCHAFER Corbis (right)
What do you do when one rare, protected species threatens the livelihood of another, even more endangered species? In New Mexico shrinking ecological niches and fragmenting habitats have put two species on a collision course--and set state administrators and wildlife managers against one another in the courts. Here the state-protected mountain lion (Puma concolor) preys on the endangered desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). New Mexico officials recently voted for a plan to kill more mountain lions in an effort to protect more sheep.
There is good reason to worry about the state's sheep population. It has been steadily declining for decades and is one of the smallest in the Southwest, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Only about 130 bighorns exist in the state, says the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), which since the mid-1990s has tracked sheep populations using radio collars. Of the 40 sheep deaths the agency recorded during the study, 30 were caused by mountain lions. Richard Beausoleil, a biologist for the NMDGF, remarks that "the department was left with a choice: do nothing and watch populations of very limited species decline to extinction or control the dominant source of mortality."
This article was originally published with the title Lion versus Lamb.