Lambing season has officially come to a close as it extends from January through June for Peninsular bighorn sheep. However, there are still a few pregnant ewes in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains near Rancho Mirage so there could be more lambs born this summer. You may recall many of these ewes gave birth in the fall of 2019 so this is their “spring” lamb for 2020. In fact, we saw six new lambs born in June in this herd! Many lambs in La Quinta are still alive, but a number of them have been showing signs of illness, particularly on the golf courses. One new lamb was born this month in the San Jacinto herd near Palm Springs, but we’re not seeing many lambs alive here. So, we’ll keep tracking the herds and see what happens and in the meantime, we’ll relish watching these playful little late-comers.
There are some lambs in the La Quinta urban areas showing signs of CE (contagious ecthyma), which is also known as sore mouth (lamb pictured has CE). This is a virus that sheep and goats get and it’s very contagious to other sheep and transmittable to humans. We’ve seen it in bighorn in the wild on occasion, but not as significantly as this year in the urban area. People at PGA West have been (illegally) feeding the sheep there for several years so these people are most at risk of contracting CE. The virus is spread by touching an infected animal. Hopefully, these lambs will survive the virus and people will stop feeding the sheep for the safety of all involved.
Urban Deaths and Fence Update
Late May and early June were not good for the sheep in La Quinta, three lambs died. Two lambs died from disease and one lamb drowned in the Coachella Canal. Thirteen sheep have now drowned in the canal since 2012. A few days after the lamb drowned, a yearling ram fell into the canal, but was able to get out, which is a rare feat. We’ve been told that the fence may be delayed until this fall as CVAG (Coachella Valley Association of Governments) waits for money they seek from PGA West and deal with a permit issue there. This is unfortunate since the fence could prevent sheep from drowning or falling in the canal. The fence would also keep the sheep in the mountains away from people at PGA West to whom they can spread the contagious ecthyma virus. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife mandated the fence to be built by February 2016. We’ll keep documenting sheep mortalities in the La Quinta urban area, which total 32 now, and hope that the fence moves forward sooner than later.
This month we gave a bighorn presentation via Zoom to the Master Gardener’s Club for their lunch and learn program. This virtual presentation was much different than physically being with a group, but surprisingly effective in education and outreach. Until we can gather in larger numbers, if you’d like a virtual bighorn presentation for your group, give us a call at (760) 346-7334 or email us at email@example.com.
Water is by far the most limiting factor for Peninsular bighorn sheep. Although the sheep are adapted to survive off of little water, it is still a necessity, especially during summer. The San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs have year-round natural water sources but the northern Santa Rosa Mountains (NSRM) near Rancho Mirage has less predictable natural water. There are eight man-made water sources in the NSRM. The sheep primarily utilize these “guzzlers” during summer, but also rely on them during droughts. The Institute helps monitor and maintain these guzzlers to help ensure the sheep have access to water. Pictured is a tinaja - a rock depression filled with water.
We’re gearing up for our waterhole count in early July, which will give us an idea of how the northern Santa Rosa herd is doing at this point in the year. Pictured are a ewe and lamb drinking at a waterhole while another ewe keeps watch. We have a number of brave volunteers lined up to sit on waterholes with us and count sheep so we’ll let you know the results in our next newsletter. Stay tuned!
You Can Help
Have you been asking how you can help us out? There are plenty of easy and rewarding ways of helping out the Bighorn Institute:
*Become a member - Renew your membership - Give a gift membership – it’s all tax-deductible!
*Adopt an Endangered Peninsular bighorn: a unique gift for the person who has everything
*Your $100 tax-deductible donation will feed the captive herd for a week
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*Log your sheep sightings in our Bighorn Institute iNaturalist project: instructions here: https://www.bighorninstitute.org/inaturalist-project
Golf Cart – we use electric carts to get around our 300 acre property to minimize disturbance to the sheep
Field receiver - $1,000 – allows us to track the radio-collared bighorn sheep
Gift cards: Amazon, Staples, gas cards (Shell, Mobile, Chevron, Tower Mart)