Creature Feature: California Bighorn Sheep

The California bighorn Sheep have now moved down the mountains into their wintering habitat and if you are lucky you may have seen them roaming around Okanagan. If you frequently make the drive along Vaseux lake you might think that Bighorn sheep are quite common but they are a threatened species in BC.
Both male and female bighorn sheep have horns, but the females horns are quite small and thin and the males horns form a large spiral which can grow into a full circle. The males use their massive horns in head butting contests to determine status and to decide who gets to breed the females. Males of similar sizes will run and jump at each other connecting horn to horn to determine dominance. Males of different sizes can usually settle their differences through posturing before any physical confrontation is necessary. This amazing display has lead to the bighorn sheep being studied for their ability to avoid concussions. One day this research may help human athletes to avoid concussions while playing contact sports like football and hockey.
Bighorn sheep are making a come back in the Okanagan but in 1999-2000 they were hit hard by a bacterial pneumonia transfered by domestic sheep and goats. Bighorn sheep are vulnerable to many diseases carried by domestic sheep and goats. They are also quite curious about their domestic cousins and will want to investigate them throughly. Unfortunately a nose to nose sniff can be all that's needed to pass disease. Double fencing of any domestic sheep or goat farm provides protection for these majestic animals.
Aside from disease bighorn sheep are also vulnerable because of their use of different ranges throughout the year.  Sheep need access to lambing areas, wintering areas and summer foraging areas. They require areas with rich grassland forage and rugged terrain where they can escape cougars and coyote, their main predators. In the winter they also require
areas of tree cover where they can escape from severe snows. The bighorn sheep need to be able to move from one type of habitat to the other which can be impacted by fencing and busy roads.  If you are fencing a property in bighorn sheep country please consider leaving a corridor at the edge of your property to allow sheep to pass freely.


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Thank you to our partners and funders