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Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep are ruminants (even toed, cud chewing animals). In the last hundred years, their numbers have declined considerably due to human encroachment and competition with domestic sheep and wild burros. Bighorns have been reintroduced into several areas in AZ; however, it remains to be seen whether these populations have become self sustaining.

Natural History

The desert bighorn is a heavy-bodied, gray-brown, deer-sized animal with a large white rump patch. Both males and females have horns, but the males' are much larger, growing into a curled spiral shape over the course of several years. A females horns are more narrow and only grow to about 12 inches (half a curl).

Can you guess the sex of the bighorn in the photo by looking at its horns?

They are found in rugged, rocky desert mountain ranges and some canyons (the one at right was photographed in the Grand Canyon). They prefer areas with steep slopes and cliffs where they can be safe from predators. Bighorn sheep feed with their herds in the early morning, then wait out the heat of the day by bedding down together in the shade to chew their cuds. The sheep typically breed during August and September, during which time the males may butt heads to establish dominance & impress the ewes. Lambs are born in February.

Bighorn are herbivores and eat many different types of grasses as well as mesquite leaves and beans, desert lavender, fairy duster, ironwood, palo verde, globemallow, cactus fruits and agave. During winter months when dew is available and plants contain more moisture, the sheep can survive for several months without drinking water. In the heat of the summer when most green plants have dried up, they seek out cactus fruits for their water content. The sheep have large stomachs and can drink up to 20% of their body weight in water at one sitting. This allows them to survive 2-3 days between drinks if they have to.

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