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Anza Borrego bighorn sheep count is back on for 50th year

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park photographed during the 2020 bighorn sheep count, July 2020.
Phil Roullard
Peninsular Bighorn Sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park photographed during the 2020 bighorn sheep count, July 2020.

After a two-year hiatus, the annual bighorn sheep count in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is back on, albeit with more safety measures.

This will be the 50th year that citizen scientists will drive to the desert and spend all day counting peninsular bighorn sheep, according to an announcement from California State Parks.

The count is done every July when the high temperatures drive bighorn sheep down to watering holes where they can be easily counted. The census is scheduled for the weekend of July 8.


Mark Jorgensen, a longtime volunteer and former park superintendent, said it's an important piece of scientific data.

“We get a good snapshot of the vigor of that part of the demographics that we're out monitoring about 18 to 20 different water sources in the hottest time of the summer,” he said.

This year will be the first full count since 2019. In 2020, the volunteer effort was far reduced because of COVID-19. Then in 2021, right before the scheduled count, a volunteer died of heat stroke after being out in the 116 degree heat stashing water for sheep counters to use, so the California State Parks Department decided to cancel the count.

There will be plenty of safety precautions, including a mandatory training for new counters. The annual "safety and protocol" meeting for potential first-time volunteers, which can also be taken as a refresher for veteran counters, will take place two weeks before the count, according to the state parks announcement.

“If you would like to take part in this year's survey efforts please submit your name, phone and email contact information to the Colorado Desert District via email to with the Subject titled '2022 Sheep Count Volunteer Info,' by June 1, 2022,“ the announcement said.


Jorgensen said there will also be lots of reminders to get a person to safety at the first sign of heat stress.

“Human safety is far more important than gathering biological data on wildlife, and that if the slightest hint of danger crops up, if somebody is experiencing any kind of stress that we use teamwork and get that person out back to safety as soon as possible, forget about counting bighorn sheep,“ he said. “We can do that another day.”

At the last count, there were less than 800 peninsular bighorn sheep.