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A Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep traveled over 180 miles from southeastern Arizona to a remote mountain range in New Mexico—only to meet its end at the claws of a mountain lion. According to a New Mexico Game and Fish (NMGF) Facebook post, the story began in 2019, when a photo of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was captured atop Cookes Peak in the southwestern part of the state. The sighting was especially notable because, though desert bighorn sheep are known to live in the vicinity of Cookes Peak, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are not. Biologists from NMGF began looking for the ram—but they couldn’t find it. It was like the sheep had vanished into thin air, never to be seen again.

rocky mountain bighorn sheep ram
The tagged ram was first spotted in New Mexico in 2019. NMGF via Facebook

Until now. The staff at White Sands Missile Range, which is just to the east of Cooke’s Peak, was looking through their trail-cam footage from May 2020, when they encountered a series of stunning photos. The images start out showing a bighorn sheep moving through a high-desert landscape.

rocky mountain bighorn sheep in desert landscape
Rocky Mountain bighorn rams grow horns that can reach weights of up to 30 pounds. NMGF via Facebook

The scene, which took place in the early morning hours of May 15, 2020, seems pretty innocuous at first. The bighorn looks like it’s on alert, but it’s not clear exactly why. Then a big cat enters the scene in a separate frame.

mountain lion on the prowl
Mountain lions typically stalk prey to within 50 feet before attacking. NMGF via Facebook

What happens next is pretty incredible. The trail camera captures an image of the lion mid-stalk with the ram moving away, seemingly oblivious to the predator’s approach. Yet there’s still some distance between the two, and it seems like the ram might just get away unscathed.

mountain lion stalks bighorn sheep
The lion inches closer in this incredible photo, as the ram walks aways. NMGF via Facebook

But there’s no such luck for the ram. The mountain lion pounces—and the final moment of the attack is captured in one last trail-cam photo.

mountain lion takes down bighorn sheep
The final frame shows the lion clinging to the ram’s head and neck. NMGF biologists confirmed the kill. NMGF via Facebook

Less than 15 minutes elapse between the time the sheep is first caught on the trail camera and when the mountain lion takes it down. NMGF says that they were able to identify the killed sheep as the same one that was spotted in 2019 on Cooke’s Peak “through an interconnected web of New Mexico’s wildlife biologists.”

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“Game and Fish biologists used the ear tag to track the bighorn back to Arizona Game and Fish, and its last known location near the Morenci Mine,” explains the agency. “This bighorn had made a trek over 180 miles to meet its demise on White Sands Missile Range.”

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