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July 2016

Yearling Ewe in the Streets

On July 22nd, Bighorn Institute received a call from the police reporting a female bighorn on the streets of La Quinta on Jefferson Street adjacent to SilverRock golf resort. Institute biologists responded to the call and found a yearling ewe farther north at Avenue 49. With help from 4 Indio police officers we made several attempts to haze the ewe back to the mountains, but the ewe was likely disoriented and determined to continue northeast away from the hills. With the extreme heat, we ended our efforts as the ewe was getting hot and was in Indian Palms Country Club in Indio, about 4 miles away from the nearest mountain. This is the farthest we have reported a bighorn sheep from the mountains in this range. Fortunately, that evening, the yearling ewe made her way back to the mountains as we had hoped.

This was a dangerous situation for all involved and could have ended very differently. This yearling ewe utilizes the La Quinta golf course areas daily and is habituated, which is why she did not respond to hazing efforts like a wild bighorn. Her unnatural behavior significantly complicated the situation. This was the 3rd incident of sheep running the streets of La Quinta around SilverRock in a 3 day period and the police were called to all 3 events. We want to thank the La Quinta and Indio Police Departments for their much-needed assistance. A fence around SilverRock is needed to keep the sheep off of the busy streets adjacent to the golf course and keep motorists safe from a bighorn collision.

Rut Returns

It’s that time of year again when rams come out of the backcountry in search of ewes to breed. Since there is only 1 functioning radio-collared ram in our 3 study herds from Palm Springs to La Quinta, we see rams opportunistically when they are with the collared ewes or we happen upon them while hiking. It’s an exciting time of year watching rams rut as they battle for breeding rights. The rut has just recently begun and typically extends from July – November for Peninsular bighorn sheep. We look forward to seeing rams regularly the rest of the year, which helps us to determine the current population levels.

Sheep Attracted Near Road

In Palm Springs, there is a water leak just feet away from Tramway Road in Chino Canyon. The water pipes appear to feed down to the Desert Palisades project, but the water leaks out of the pipes or pumping station and a pool of water has collected. This standing water is attracting bighorn sheep to drink a mere 20 meters away from busy Tramway Road. We first noticed this water leak in November 2015 and notified the wildlife agencies, but as of yet, nothing has been done to rectify the situation. We have received calls from concerned motorists as this water leak poses serious safety issues for both sheep and drivers. Please drive carefully on Tramway Road and let us know if you see sheep 760-346-7334.

GPS Collars

GPS (Global Positioning System) radio-collars are great in that they collect accurate locations on bighorn sheep without any effort or interference from humans, but they certainly have their limitations and all brands are not created equally. GPS collars don’t tell you how the animal is doing health-wise (are they in good condition), reproduction data (whether or not a ewe had a lamb, its sex, and survival status), the population dynamics of the herd (age and sex of the population), etc. Along with these shortcomings, this month, we had 2 GPS collars fail in the same week: a ewe’s collar went into mortality mode and a ram’s collar quit beaconing. These collars were just put on 8 months ago and should have lasted several years. The ewe’s collar that is stuck on mortality mode means that it is more difficult to determine when/if she actually dies and battery life will decrease. The ram’s collar just quit beaconing, which means we can no longer track him and his collar is no longer collecting locations. We’ve come a long way in monitoring wildlife, but nothing beats “boots on the ground” and being out there physically observing bighorn as we do. It’s arduous work, especially in summer, but worth the effort when you’re helping with the recovery of an endangered species like the Peninsular bighorn.

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