On July 5th & 6th, Bighorn Institute conducted a waterhole count in the northern Santa
Rosa Mountains (NSRM). Waterhole counts for bighorn sheep are conducted in extreme heat conditions of summer when sheep are reliant on drinking water. Since bighorn sheep can go 3 days without drinking water in over 100 degree temperatures, counts are conducted over a 2-3 day period with the thought that all of the sheep in the area should drink at some point during that time. Bighorn Institute has intensely monitored the NSRM herd since 1982 so waterhole counts haven’t been necessary since we’re in the field daily. This year, we decided to do a sheep count to check our population numbers and engage a few citizen scientists. Count conditions were ideal with a couple of the hottest days so far this summer, 112 and 117 degrees, and we saw 52 bighorn sheep, primarily ewes and lambs. Lamb survival remains high right now, which is an improvement from last year. The count was a great success, we confirmed our population numbers and we appreciate all who participated and braved the heat with us!
More Late Lambs!
Lambing in the NSRM has been very unusual and has kept us on our toes. We had an exciting July with the addition of 4 new lambs, all born in mid to late June and early July. Lambing season extends through June for Peninsular bighorn, but such late births are the exception, not the rule. Several of the ewes that gave birth recently had given birth to late fall lambs in October and November last year so we didn’t think they would give birth again this season. That’s the great thing about this job and bighorn sheep, we keep learning as we go! The amazing thing is, a couple of the ewes that gave birth recently would have been nursing young lambs when they became pregnant with their current lambs, which goes against the belief that lactating ewes don’t get pregnant. Well guess what, they can and sometimes do! All of this is very exciting and “ground-breaking” so we’re doing our best to document it and see what happens to these new little ones! (pictured is a ewe with a 2018 spring lamb and 2017 fall lamb)
The Boys Are Back in Town
Only a few were around during our waterhole count in early July, but by the end of July,
the rams had returned for the rut and breeding season is in full swing! The rut typically extends from July through December for Peninsular bighorn sheep. It’s a neat time of year to see rams we haven’t seen for around 6 months since the rams spend lambing season in the backcountry in bachelor groups muscling up for the breeding season. During the rut, rams can lose 25% of their body weight as they may roam for miles in search of ewes to breed. We’ve already had an amazing observation of an unmarked ram that we released 15 years ago as a yearling and is still going strong! He was in full breeding mode chasing some ewes in an effort to fulfill his main goal, passing on his genes to the next generation. It’s going to be an exciting season to witness!
Ram in Thunderbird Villas
In late July, we received a call from a homeowner that a ram was on the urban-side of the bighorn exclusion fence in the Thunderbird Villas community in Rancho Mirage. We immediately responded and found the ram walking along the fence trying to get back to the habitat-side of the fence. With the help of a city staff member, we opened one of the gates and walked behind the ram to get him to go out of the urban area. We check the Rancho Mirage fence each month and had just checked it 4 days prior to this incident so we were sure it was secure. We inspected the Cathedral Canyon fence and found sheep scat on the urban-side and a flood panel tied open. We were pleased to get this ram out of the urban area so quickly since it rarely happens that way as they typically want to get out where they came in. We’ll take a happy ending any day, but hope those walking in Cathedral Canyon will keep the fence panel down so the sheep will remain out of the urban area.
Bighorn Sheep Hit on Highway 74
In June and July, there were two bighorn sheep struck by automobiles and killed on Highway 74 south of Palm Desert. The first was a male lamb that was approximately 4 months old and the second was a 2 year old ram. There are new signs along the highway that include yellow beacon flashing signs, which we hope will help alert motorists to the presence of sheep on this already treacherous road, but obviously, the sheep can still surprise a driver. Please use extra caution for your safety as well as the bighorn when driving Highway 74.
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 2018 Annual Party and Golf Classic will take place November 18th & 19th 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 email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call us at 760-346-7334.