In late June, three lambs died in a five day period at PGA West and there is still no fence in sight. All of these lambs (2 females, 1 male) had upper respiratory issues, but a necropsy by the state lab should determine their ultimate cause of death. This is déjà vu from last summer when a number of sick lambs died on the golf courses in La Quinta. Those lambs died from upper respiratory illness and had copper deficiencies, which makes them more susceptible to illness. Sulfate-based fertilizers, which are often used on golf courses, have been shown to cause copper deficiencies. But, this is not the underlying problem. The real issue is that these sheep do not belong in an urban setting and until they are fenced out, they will continue to take advantage of these lush lawns. In order for a fence to be built, PGA West must give permission for an easement along their property. In the meantime, many more lambs will likely perish from preventable deaths. Please urge PGA West, Tradition and The Quarry to allow the fence to be built along their properties. We all have to give a little to get these sheep off of the endangered species list.
We recently saw a social media photo of a ewe with two identical looking lambs and the person claimed they were twins. While this may seem logical, bighorn sheep typically only have one lamb and in our 35 years we have only seen 3 sets of twins. Since bighorn sheep live in herds they rely on each other for predator avoidance, which trickles down to protecting their young. A ewe will leave her lamb with another dam (bighorn mother) while she goes down to drink or eat in a “risky” area, which leaves the other ewe to “babysit.” They trade off and it seems to work quite well, although let’s face it, all mothers aren’t created equally and some ewes seem to pawn off their responsibilities on others a little too easily. Ewes of lesser stature in the hierarchy can sometimes bear the brunt of the lamb rearing.
As far as the twins we’ve seen, 2 sets were born in the Institute’s captive herd and 1 set was born in the wild and seen at just 2 days of age. To be sure of twins, lambs must be seen at just a few days old when they’re still alone bonding with their mother. After a few days to a week, the ewe and her newborn will join other ewes and lambs and form a nursery group and babysitting begins, which is a pretty neat behavior to help ensure survival of the fittest.
They Eat What?!
One of the most common questions we get is “what do bighorn eat”? As herbivores, they eat most all native plants found in our desert, including cacti. Yes, sometimes spines and all, they eat one of the most commonly avoided plants by outdoor enthusiasts. Especially during summer when other greenery is lacking, bighorn will use their horns to break open a barrel cactus and eat the fleshy insides. Since bighorn can go three days without drinking water in 100 degree temperatures, they get much of their necessary moisture and electrolytes from their diet. They also like to chew on cholla, which is painful to watch, especially if you’ve ever had a cholla spine stuck in you. With a hook-like end that embeds in your skin, they are not fun to pull out. So next time you see a bighorn sheep, be thankful you don’t share their desert diet!
Bighorn Institute sits on 300 acres of native desert so we see a lot of interesting wildlife throughout the year. During summer, reptiles and lizards are the most common critters and while we see snake tracks across our dirt roads almost daily, we rarely see them. That said, we’ve had three different rattlesnake species on property including Southwest Speckled (Crotalus mitchellii pyrrhus), Red Diamond (Crotalus ruber), and Sidewinders (Crotalus cerastes). We’ve also had non-venomous Red Racers (Coluber flagellum piceus) and Sonoran Gopher Snakes (Pituophis catenifer affinis), to name a few. We have a healthy population of Desert Iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), which are by far one of the most beautiful lizards. We have breeding pairs of Common Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) living on our rocky hillside. While they are a large, fascinating lizard, they have a look only a mother could love. Lately, there has been a Scott’s Oriole (Icterus parisorum) singing for days around our palm trees trying to attract a mate. There have also been adorable Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii) chicks running around with mini top-knots to boot. The desert abounds with wonderful wildlife so look for it on your next adventure! Pictured (from left to right) is a desert iguana, chuckwalla, and an adult Gambel's Quail with her chicks.
Auction Items Needed
Do you have sports tickets, a condo, a boat, or any other exciting items you would consider donating to our annual fundraiser? We’re always looking for fun and exciting new auction items for our Annual Party live and silent auctions. Don’t have a “big” item but would like to help? Fantastic! We’d love to include your gift; all donated items are completely tax-deductible. The Institute’s 2017 Annual Party and Golf Classic will take place November 19th & 20th and supports our conservation efforts for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. Please help us make this year’s event a huge success for the sheep! To donate, please call 760-346-7334.