San Diegans show love for bighorn sheep after park accused of neglecting ‘guzzler’ system

A bighorn sheep stands on a rock formation
The peninsula bighorn sheep population has rebounded nicely since 1998, when it was listed as an endangered species.
(John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is working with the Anza-Borrego Foundation to establish a dedicated account to support bighorn sheep.


The long-term fate of the Peninsular bighorn sheep is largely unknown given climate change, a lack of state monitoring and recent allegations of negligence at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Several members of the community, who have followed the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of this issue, have in recent weeks responded with an outpouring of financial support for the animals. Park leaders have also reportedly agreed to work with the Anza-Borrego Foundation to set up a dedicated account to fund projects benefiting the sheep.

The agile mountain climbers, whose range stretches from the Mexico border to Palm Springs, faced extinction in the mid-1990s when their numbers dipped below 300 sheep.


Since then, the federally endangered species has rebounded thanks in large part to the work of folks such as former park Supt. Mark Jorgensen. He and others helped install and maintain a series of rain “guzzlers” that have provided water for the sheep and other wildlife for the last four decades.

A man in hiking gear stands on a mountain overlook
Former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Supt. Mark Jorgensen walks to a “guzzler” south of Borrego Springs on May 2.
(Ana Ramirez / San Diego Union-Tribune)

However, concerns have been mounting over the last three years that the park has allowed those rainwater capture systems to fall into disrepair. State parks officials deny this, but Anza-Borrego coordinated its first emergency water drop last year after the guzzler on Whale Peak leaked dry and several sheep were found dead in the vicinity. Three more such water drops are being planned for this year.

Jorgensen, who has helped spearhead efforts to maintain the guzzlers since his retirement, said he was recently contacted by a number of people looking to donate to the cause. One of those people was Shelia Cameron of Encinitas.

“My husband and I are regular visitors to Anza Borrego and Borrego Springs,” she explained in an email to the Union-Tribune. “I had the joy one morning of seeing a ram and three ewes cross the road in front of my car!”

Meanwhile, the Sycuan Casino has decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from its annual charity golf tournament to the Anza-Borrego Foundation. Recipients in years past have received as much as $25,000.

No one knows exactly how many Peninsular bighorn sheep exist today. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s last estimate was from 2016, when it documented just under 900 animals. The agency has reportedly been conducting surveys again this year, so an updated number could be available at some point in the near future.

For now, San Diegans are showing their love for one of the region’s most iconic animals.