California Bighorn Sheep are a species that really live up to their name. A ram’s massive, spiral-shaped horns can measure up to 3.3 feet (over a meter) long, and weight up to 30 pounds (14kg)! A ram's horns will continue to grow throughout his life, but they grow much more slowly in the winter. Because of this growth pattern, you can age a ram much like you would age a tree by counting the growth rings! Female sheep (ewes) also have horns, but they are much smaller than a ram's.
Rams use their massive horns to fight each other in hopes of winning the right to mate with females in the herd. These battles can last up to 24 hours! But how do the rams avoid concussions? Their horns are structured in such a way that absorbs the impacts from the repeated blows, saving their brain from too much trauma.
Their horns aren't their only impressive feature; Bighorn Sheep also have amazing balance thanks to their split, rough hooves. They can stand on ledges only 5 centimetres (2 inches) wide, and leap as far as 6 meters (20 feet)!
Unfortunately, Bighorn sheep throughout British Columbia face many threats, and their populations have been struggling for decades. Our wild sheep have complex habitat needs, so loss of their habitats and disruption of migration corridors due to human activity pose serious threats. Sheep can be killed on the roads while trying to migrate, or when they are attracted to the salt on the road in winter. Another serious concern for our Bighorn herds is disease, especially a pneumonia-like infection transmitted from domestic to wild sheep which killed up to 70% of the Okanagan's Bighorn Sheep population during an outbreak in 2000.
Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to help protect Bighorn Sheep:
Avoid keeping livestock (especially domestic sheep, goats, and lamas) near Bighorn Sheep habitat
Build a second fence between livestock and Bighorn habitat to provide a buffer and prevent any physical contact
Prevent road mortality by installing warning signs for drivers, and if possible, fences and overpasses for the Sheep
Avoid known lambing habitat sites during springtime, and always keep your distance from Sheep
Advocate for the conservation and enhancement of Bighorn Sheep habitat