Minesh Bacrania Photographs Bighorn Sheep for New Mexico Magazine
In March 2020, New Mexico-based photographer Minesh Bacrania completed an assignment photographing desert bighorn and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep for New Mexico Magazine. The photos were published in the magazine’s May 2020 issue as part of a collaboration between the New Mexico Tourism Department and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to shed light on the restoration of wild sheep populations.
I’ve seen bighorn sheep around here for years. When you go into the mountains here, you’ll occasionally run into them, but for many years they were extinct. Now, the populations are returning to their former levels after 100 or so years. I think it’s an important conservation story.
Desert bighorn and Rocky Mountain sheep are both native to New Mexico, but by the 1980’s, both types of sheep had been hunted to near extinction from the desert and mountain lands, respectively. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been restoring both populations by transplanting Rocky Mountain sheep from Canada to the mountains of New Mexico and creating a refuge for desert bighorns on a range in southern New Mexico.
Starting in November 2019, Minesh began photographing both types of bighorn sheep. Finding the sheep required some travel from Minesh’s studio space in Los Alamos. On his first outing to find Rocky Mountain bighorns, Minesh went with biologist Caitlin Ruhl to Taos Gorge, an hour’s drive north of Los Alamos.
The first time I went out was the official bighorn survey, a day when rangers count the sheep populations to make sure they’re still thriving in the areas where they’ve been transplanted. There were Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the other side of the gorge, which is where they usually hang out, so we could just barely see them.
The second time Minesh went with conservation officer Jason Kline to White Sands National Park, a four-and-a-half hour drive south of Los Alamos. This time, Minesh was focused on photographing desert bighorn sheep. Alongside the conservation officer, Minesh was able to find the desert bighorn sheep in part because several of them wear GPS collars.
One of the rangers told me [that] if you stand the desert bighorn next to the Rocky Mountain bighorn, you might be able to tell the difference, but it’s hard. The habitats are the difference. It was important we show both types and both habitats.
Since he has lived in the Rocky Mountains for about 15 years, Minesh had a good idea of where he could find more Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to photograph. So, he set out on his own to capture more detailed shots of the wild animals.
We live on the side of a mountain range, and there’s another herd just up the mountain from our house. I see them on the road all the time. They’re not skittish. I was the same distance from the sheep as I would’ve been from a person. So, I was shooting photographs of the bighorn sheep in the same way I’d do a portrait of a person.
Though Minesh’s focus is more on portraits than wildlife photography, he enjoyed being a part of an interesting story. The New Mexico Magazine article gave Minesh a chance to work outdoors, meet new people, and learn something new. Plus, he got to spend some quality time with his young son by bringing him along on the desert bighorn sheep shoot.
My son got to skip school for the day to come out on the shoot with me. He’s actually a really good assistant. He knows lights and he’s a pretty good photographer. New Mexico Magazine ended up running one of the images he shot with his name is in the byline.
The article was a joint effort between New Mexico Magazine (published by the NM Tourism Department) and the NM Department of Game and Fish.