CALIFORNIA BIGHORN SHEEP

An iconic resident of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, California Bighorn Sheep were once widely found throughout the dry grasslands and rugged terrain of the Southern Interior. Unfortunately, only small herds of wild sheep now occur within this historical range. In addition to overall habitat loss, many of their traditional migration corridors are now blocked by fence lines and roadways. This map shows the few areas where Bighorn Sheep are still living in the region.

Bighorn Sheep are at high risk of diseases often carried by domestic sheep and goats.  In 1999-2000, 70% of the South Okanagan Bighorn Sheep population died from pneumonia likely transmitted by domestics, which are largely immune.

The only way to keep wild sheep safe from this threat is to avoid sheep or goat husbandry in areas with Bighorn Sheep. Unless you have double fenced pastures, do not raise domestic sheep or goats as pets or livestock where wild sheep and goats may be present. Any wild sheep who come in contact with a domestic one could become very sick.

Photo: Diane Bersea

Do you have a farm or working property and want to know how to better coexist with wildlife?

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You can tell the age of a Bighorn ram by counting the "annuli", or ridges, on their horns! Each ridge is about one year. Rams can live for 9-12 years and ewes can live for 10-14 years.

  • Retain areas of natural habitat on your property, including ponds and springs.

  • Tread lightly when outdoors; walk, bike, and drive only on established roads and trails. Avoid rock outcrops and cliffs during April and May, which is lambing season

  • Be cautious around sheep: rams can be aggressive in fall rutting season, and ewes are protective during lambing.

  • Keep pets under control to prevent harassment or killing of wild sheep and other wildlife.

  • Drive slowly when sheep and wildlife are near roads.

  • Manage invasive plants on your property as some of them can be toxic to sheep.

  • Work with neighbours to keep movement corridors on your property.

  • Avoid placing fencing that blocks sheep from moving between their summer and winter ranges.

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When fighting, Bighorn Sheep rams butt heads at up to 50 km/h!  How do they avoid getting concussions?

In addition to flexible, impact-absorbing skulls and horns, rams are also able to slow the flow of blood from their head to their body. This makes blood vessels in the brain expand in volume and creates a tighter fit between the brain and skull. A snug fit means less concussion-causing brain shaking when the rams collide.