Earlier this month, Dr. Lori Kirshner of Animals Today Radio interviewed Bighorn Institute biologist, Aimee Byard, regarding the urban-bighorn issues in La Quinta. Rams have been coming down to the La Quinta golf courses since 2007, and ewes and lambs since 2012. We know at least 12 bighorn sheep have died since 2012 from coming down to these urban areas to utilize artificial sources of food and water. In fact, in May, five lambs died on the La Quinta golf courses during a two week period. The Institute has been outspoken about the need for a fence to keep the bighorn back in their natural habitat away from the perils of the urban area. Click on the photo to listen to the interview.
Lambing Comes to a Close
Lambing season for Peninsular bighorn sheep extends from January to June so this year’s crop has arrived. Many lambs were born this year, as often is the case, but survival is the measure of success. Summer is challenging for all of us here in the desert and the sheep are no exception, however, desert bighorn have many adaptations to thrive in this dry, harsh environment. If a lamb can make it through its first summer, it has a good chance of living to adulthood and hopefully thriving for years.
We documented approximately 65 lambs born in our study area from Palm Springs to La Quinta. The lambs range from 2-5 months of age and many have substantial horn growth. Lambs are weaned around 5 months of age, but will stay with their mother for the first year of life. Vital home range information is passed down to lambs during this time so they learn where to go for food, water and shelter. The lambs in the northern Santa Rosa and San Jacinto’s look good, but the ones utilizing the golf courses in La Quinta have been sick and may not make it. In fact, five lambs died on La Quinta golf courses just this year. We continue to watch that herd closely.
Water Source Cleanup
In mid-June, we cleared out the overgrown, invasive vegetation surrounding one of the man-made water sources in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains. Overgrown vegetation can block the bighorn’s vision as they come in to drink, providing an ambush opportunity for predators. This is an important time of year to ensure water sources are full and clear with the temperatures rising. Bighorn sheep can go months without drinking water during the winter as they are adapted to utilize moisture from their diet of desert dwelling plants. During the summer, desert bighorn sheep can still go 3 days without drinking in temperatures over 100 degrees but will usually drink daily if water is available. There are no longer reliable, year-round natural water sources in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains, which makes these man-made water sources a necessity. The vegetation was removed by hand, which is a painstaking process in the heat, but it’s worth it knowing it’s helping the safety of the sheep. In fact, a group of 17 ewes and lambs came down to drink shortly after the vegetation was cleared.
Released Ewe Adapting Well
It’s been three months since we released an adult ewe from our captive herd into the northern Santa Rosa Mountains and we are pleased to report that she looks good and is adapting well to her surroundings. We monitor her daily and observe her weekly. She has a penchant for being on top of the mountain, which puts us through our paces in this heat, but clearly, that’s where she feels safest, so no complaints. We’re just glad she’s doing so well.
Keeping desert bighorn sheep safe from urban threats (click photo for story)