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Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis) | Endangered Species Series

Updated: May 15



Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

"The bighorn sheep is one of two species of mountain sheep in North America."

These animals range in color from light brown to grayish to dark brown and have a white rump and lining down their legs.

The bighorn sheep is named for the large, curved horns of the males - rams.

They are legendary for their ability to climb very steep and rocky mountains.

Height: rams 3 - 3 1/2 ft, ewes are smaller

Weight: 140 - 300lbs

Length: rams 5ft 3in - 6ft, ewes are smaller

Horn length: rams - over 30in with a 15in circumference, ewes horns are shorter and have little curvature

Horn weight: rams - 30lbs

Average Life Span: rams - 9 to 12 years, ewes - 10 to 14 years

Food: summer - grasses and sedges, winter - woody plants like willow, sage, and rabbit bush

Females (ewes) live in herds or bands of 5-15, including their young, while the males live in much smaller groups of 2 to 5. In the winter, ewe groups come together and form groups of up to 100 members.

The bighorn sheep once roamed throughout western North America. In the early 19th century, the population was 1.5 to 2 million. By the 1920s, however, the species was eliminated from several states (WA,OR, TX, ND, SD and NE) and part of Mexico. Today, due to transplanting animals to those areas, the species has rebounded to nearly 70,000.

The bighorn sheep is considered endangered in California and remains threatened throughout the rest of its range. Threats include hunting, loss of food to livestock grazing, diseases from livestock, and loss of habitat from development (this is an increasing threat). Though natural predation is not usually a risk to the greater population, in areas that have very small bands death by natural predator has an increased impact. The greater population of bighorn sheep is also increasingly threatened by climate change as their habitats become hotter and drier and their food source is not able to survive the harsher conditions.



Sources: Defenders of Wildlife

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