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Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep
Ovis canadensis nelsoni


Bovidae, the cow and goat family

Conservation Status:

The population in the Peninsular Mountain Ranges of southern California is federally endangered.


The desert Southwest.


Rugged, rocky slopes at 1000-3000 feet, areas remote from man


Cloven hooves which are sharp-edged, elastic, and concave–well adapted for the rocky areas they prefer-plus extremely acute eyesight, aid in jumping and gaining footholds on narrow mountain ledges.

Short-legged and stocky, Desert bighorn are not as thick as the more northern subspecies. Coats are a dull sandy-brown color with a white rump patch which makes them difficult to see. The males have massive curved horns while females have thinner, shorter horns without the large curl. They are herbivores, foraging a plants such as mesquite, catclaw acacia, jojoba, buckwheat, grasses, cactus and agave. They need water every 3-4 days in summer and can lose up to 20% of body weight, replacing it at one drinking. Usually only sick, weak or young are taken by mountain lions or coyotes.While the sexes roamed in separate bands earlier, they come together in late summer, and by fall, the rutting season begins. The dominant ram will mate with most of the ewes that, after a 6 month gestation period, will give birth to one lamb. Ewes generally return to the same lambing area each year. Ewes’ milk is extremely rich, which helps prepare lambs for a summer of high heat, low water and sparse food. Lambs are weaned at about 2 months.

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