The rut, or breeding season, is officially underway and will extend through November for our local Peninsular bighorn. Rams are roaming the hills and can lose up to 25% of their body weight during the rut as they travel miles searching for ewes to breed. In fact, we had a young ram hanging around our property checking out the captive ewes. He must have been confused and a bit miffed with our fence keeping him out so he eventually moved on. Rams will smell a ewe’s urine and do a “lip curl” to see if she’s in estrous and receptive to being bred. They have a Jacobson’s organ on the roof of their mouth that senses pheromones present when ewes are in estrous. It’s always an exciting and nerve-racking time of year watching the rams battle and chase the ewes. While the sheep are not aggressive, it may be wise to steer clear of these hyper-focused rams if you happen to encounter them. You could be standing between a ram and the next object of his affection. (Pictured: The ram on the left is doing a lip curl).
Sheep in the Streets
In mid-August, a ewe that resides in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains was wandering in the streets at the base of the hills in Rancho Mirage. The sheep have been fenced off from this urban area since 2002 and there have only been a handful of times sheep have breached the fence, but in this case, this ewe seems to have just walked around the end of it. She did this two years ago as well and thankfully, has been the only sheep to figure this out in nearly 20 years. Efforts were made to haze the ewe back to the mountains, but she wasn’t cooperating. It was too hot to keep pushing her so she was left to find her way; they often go back the way they came. Early the following morning, we went looking for her and found her safe and sound back in the mountains browsing and avoiding the advances of a ram. We were incredibly relieved this incident ended well and hope she stays in the mountains where she belongs. If you see sheep in an urban area please give us a call at (760) 346-7334. (Pictured: Sheep in the streets at PGA West).
La Quinta Guzzler Update
In late August, we had a Zoom meeting with members from the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the Coachella Valley Water District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to discuss the possibility and logistics of adding a guzzler (artificial water source) for the sheep before the fence is installed. No real decisions were made, but we found out the guzzler will cost around $5,000 and will be located north of Lake Cahuilla adjacent to a set of water tanks from which water will be provided. It’s unclear who will pay for the guzzler, but the agencies are discussing it. We asked for an update on the La Quinta fence and construction is still projected to begin this fall. (Pictured: Sheep drink from a guzzler in the mountains near Ranch Mirage).
Bighorn Institute has had a captive herd since 1984 and while our office trailer and house are now on city water, the water to the bighorn pens comes from a well we had drilled nearly 40 years ago. For the first time in all of these years, our well stopped working in August (on a weekend no less) and we had to haul water out in jugs to our captive herd. Thankfully it was just a relay switch that went bad and was replaced. We’re thrilled to have water to the pens again-you don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone-and hope our well will continue to work for many years to come!
In late August, we gave a bighorn presentation to the residents at Segovia in Palm Desert. It was a nice turnout and they asked some good questions. We always appreciate the opportunity to spread the word about the sheep and our work. If you’d like a bighorn presentation for your group, give us a call at (760) 346-7334 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save the Date: 2021 Fall Fundraiser
The 2021 Annual Party and Golf Classic will take place on Sunday and Monday, November 21st and 22nd at Stone Eagle Golf Club. This is the Institute’s primary fundraiser and is an event you don’t want to miss! We’re excited to see you so mark your calendars and plan to join us! All proceeds benefit the endangered Peninsular bighorn.
Are you a brave, heat-loving, early morning summer hiker? You can assist us in our work by logging your sheep sightings for free in Bighorn Institute’s iNaturalist project accessible via phone or computer. Your sightings can help us keep track of the local, endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and let other hikers know where they might see sheep. For instructions on using iNaturalist app, visit our website: https://www.bighorninstitute.org/inaturalist-project
Fire at BI
On August 31, 2021, we arrived at work at 5:45 am to find our gate lock broken, one of our golf carts burned to the ground and our field Jeep hood propped up and partially burned with significant damage. We suspected arson, but there were water stains around the ash. Turns out, at 4:30 am, a passerby called the fire department-a blessing that likely saved our office-and the fire department broke our gate lock and extinguished the fire. It’s amazing that our office wasn’t touched by the fire, as it’s only 10 feet from the golf cart and the Jeep was 18 feet away. Even the fire captain commented on this so we consider ourselves beyond fortunate. The fire department thinks the fire was most likely caused by the golf cart batteries.
While it was a huge relief that the office suffered no damage, this fire was a shock nonetheless. We use electric golf carts to minimize disturbance as we care for the captive herd on our 300 acre property. We only have one field Jeep so this is a setback for sure as we figure out if it’s salvageable. If you have a golf cart in good condition you’d consider donating, we’d love to hear from you. OR, if you’d like to make a donation to our fire recovery, we’d be deeply grateful and most appreciative. All donations (including a golf cart) are completely tax-deductible. Thank you!