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Bighorn Sheep Ovis canadensis


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Bighorn Sheep, male
credit:  Glenlarson

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Alternate name: Mountain Sheep

Family: Bovidae, Cattle, Goats, and Sheep view all from this family

Description A brown sheep with a white rump patch and large curved horns that symbolizes mountain wilderness in North America. Large male horns are used in combat to establish dominance. Female horns are smaller. Easily distinguished from Dallís Sheep by color and geographic range. In spring molt, cream-colored females are distinguished from Mountain Goats by coat and horn color. Heaviest in October, lightest in May. Measurements given are for O. c. canadensis from the central and northern Rockies, the largest subspecies.

Dimensions 1.6-1.9m, 8-12cm, 75-135kg; / 1.5-1.7m, 7-12cm, 48-85kg

Endangered Status The Bighorn Sheep is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in California. Both the Peninsular Ranges population in the U.S. and a California subspecies called the Sierra Nevada Bighorn are protected under the Endangered Species Act. These animals began their decline in the mid-1800s at the time of heavy human settlement of the West. This can be attributed at least in part to degradation of their habitat due to development, road-building, water-management practices, and recreational activities. The bighorns have also been affected by disease, sometimes passed on to them by domestic sheep, and are often preyed upon by Mountain Lions and probably by domestic dogs as well. These sheep live in increasingly fragmented populations, which makes them vulnerable because a single event, such as an illness, can wipe out an entire population.

Habitat Alpine & subalpine habitats, Canyons & caves, Deserts, Forests & woodlands, Grasslands & prairies, Lakes, ponds, rivers & streams, Meadows & fields, Scrub, shrub & brushlands

Range Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, California, Northwest, Western Canada

Discussion Often seen at saltlicks. Typically in groups of 5-80 animals. Many populations are migratory, moving between summer and winter ranges. Limited by water availability in desert habitats, where many isolated populations are declining and the subspecies O. c. californiana from California is Endangered. Prefers treeless areas with nearby cliffs or rocky areas to escape from predators.