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Facts About Desert Bighorn Sheep

Abhijit Naik
The Desert bighorn, native to arid regions of the United States, is known to go without water for several days; a peculiar adaptation which is usually associated with camels.
The desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) is a member of the Bovidae family of mammals, native to the United States and Mexico. 
It is a subspecies of the bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), and is typically characterized by its long curvaceous horns―with the rams sporting thick horns measuring over 3 feet in length.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

  • Desert bighorns are found in mountain ranges or foothills in desert regions and dry areas with inadequate water and less vegetation. Their bodies can adapt to the fluctuating temperatures of deserts very quickly.
  • The rams measuring 160 to 180 cm in length and weigh 120 to 125 kg, while the ewes measure 140 to 160 cm and weigh between 50 to 90 kg.
  • These sheep sport a brown fur coat, which is glossy in summer, but fades off in winter.
  • They have a sharp eyesight, which helps them detect their predators, like mountain lions and bobcats, with ease.
  • Their strong hooves make them good mountain climbers, a skill which helps them escape potential predators by running on steep hills.
  • They have magnificent horns which can grow up to a length of 33 inches and weigh 30 lbs. These horns start near their cheeks and curl behind their heads. The horns are symbols of superiority in bighorns.
  • The desert bighorns indulge in fierce head-to-head combats, the winners of which gets the ewe. These head-to-head combats can last for many hours.
  • In a deadly combat, they attack by ramming their thick skull and strong horns onto each other, approaching each other at full speed from a distance of about 20 - 30 feet.
  • The strong horns, which are mainly used for fighting, also substitute as tools for breaking cactus for consumption.
  • Their diet mainly consists of desert vegetation. Their complex 9 stage digestive process ensures that they derive maximum nutrients from marginal quality food, like dry grass.
  • In winter, when green vegetation is abundant, these animals can go without drinking water for many days. In summer, on the other hand, they can stay without drinking water for two or three days.
  • In summer, they reduce water loss from their body by taking shelter in caves and bulging rock projections during the day time.
  • The species has a life span of 10 - 15 years. The age of a bighorn can be determined by taking a note of the rings on its horns.
  • They attain sexual maturity by the age of 2 years. However, rams and ewes live in separate groups throughout the year and come together only during the mating season.
  • After a gestation period of 180 days, the ewe gives birth to a young one, which weighs about 8 to 10 lbs and becomes active within a few minutes of birth. The young ones stay with their mother for 2 years.
  • The species was nearly wiped out due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. Today, with only a few thousand individuals left, they are highly dependent on conservation efforts for their survival.
Found in abundance once upon a time, desert bighorn sheep are now battling for their basic survival. If necessary steps are not taken, it won't be long before this magnificent creature is wiped off the planet.