The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.
A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
The new plate design is a first for TPWD.
“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.
“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”
Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas. The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.
Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.
I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.
That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.
For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.
Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.
But the future is uncertain.
It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.
This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.
New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.
Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.
The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.
When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.
A couple said deer, while one said antelope.
Most of the others said it was a ram.
When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.
Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)
When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.
That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.
Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.
In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.
Chester Moore, Jr.