This ram is no sham

Desert bighorn unconcerned with spectators. Photo by Scott Holly

A friend of a friend’s brother-in-law captured this evocative image of a desert bighorn sheep near Fish Creek on the Apache Trail not far from Apache Junction. The lucky fellow who saw the ram said the animal was taking his ease on a rocky pinnacle, about 200 yards off the road. Not many are fortunate enough to see desert bighorns because these ungulates live in remote mountainous areas, the steeper and rockier the better. The sheep’s nimble prowess on sheer rock faces provides protection from predators including mountain lions and trophy hunters. Desert bighorns are supremely adapted to hot arid conditions. The herds graze on a wide variety of plants, from grasses and the leaves and pods of native trees to shrubs such as fairy duster, desert lavender and globemallow. They graze in the early morning, and during winter the dew and the moisture in the plants is sufficient to satisfy their thirst. In the summer they seek waterholes or kick and butt cacti to access the moisture inside. The two hundred pound sheep chew their cuds and rest during the day, grazing again in the late afternoon. During the intense heat of summer bighorns seek shade in thick brush or under rocky ledges, and can withstand a body temperature of 107 degrees. A large stomach allows them to store enough water to last several days without drinking. When a waterhole is found they can drink up to 20% of their body weight in just a few minutes. Most of the year, the males and females live in separate herds, but in late summer they come together for breeding season. The largest ram with the biggest horns usually holds dominance and breeding rights but must occasionally battle off challengers. The two males charge each other repeatedly in explosive butts of the horns that echo a mile away. Ultimately one ram gives up and retreats. The ewes also carry horns, but finer half spirals. The horns are full of hollow cavities or sinuses making them lighter than they look. In February the pregnant females go off alone to give birth, it is thought each instinctively returns to her own birthplace. In a week or two the new mom comes back to the herd with a lamb that weighed just 8-10 pounds at birth. Arizona’s desert bighorn sheep are threatened by habitat loss and by competition for food with domestic sheep and wild burros. The population is closely managed by Arizona Game and Fish, and hunting permits are issued every year. Sources:
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert
Arizona Game and Fish website
Thanks to Scott Holly for use of his photograph


One response to “This ram is no sham

  1. Sorry, trophy hunters…what a waste of good genes….shameful in my opinion! Another nicely done article, however! Happy Holidays!

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