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Bighorn Sheep of Colorado

Colorado Bighorn SheepThe Bighorn Sheep is the symbol of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado´s official mammal. Colorado hosts the largest population of Bighorns in the world, the great majority of those being Rocky Mountain Bighorns (Ovis Canadensis Canadensis). Unless you are a highly skilled camper/climber/backpacker capable of navigating very steep and treacherous terrain, you will not likely encounter a Bighorn in the wild. In fact, a car-camper would be more likely to snap a Pulitzer winning photo of Big Foot than to ever come across one of these animals. Rocky Mountain Bighorns tend not to stray away from the very rocky, rough mountain terrain high above the tree line.

Identifying characteristics of Bighorn Sheep

Males (Rams) weigh between 150-250 pounds and can measure up to 45 inches tall at the shoulder. Females (Ewes) are a bit smaller at around 120-200 pounds. The large, curled horns of a mature Ram can comprise up to 10 percent of his total weight. Ewes are easily identified by their much smaller spike-like horns. A characteristic common among all Bighorn Sheep is their white rump as well as the tufts of white on the back of all four legs. Their sandy colored coats turn to a darker brown during the winter months.

Bighorn Family Life

The characteristic clashing of horns performed by rams is done to establish dominance in the mating hierarchy. While rams will exhibit this behavior, to a limited extent, throughout the year, it is done primarily during the pre-rut (the period just prior to mating season). The mating season or rut, runs through late autumn and is the only time that both sexes are grouped together along with lambs. During most of the year the rams will tend to venture off on their own, away from the females and young lambs. The ewes will experience a 6-month gestation period usually resulting in the birth of one lamb in May or June. Ewes will begin to bear young at 2 years of age. Rams however, will not breed until they have grown large enough to establish a place in the mating hierarchy.

Bighorn Trials and Tribulations

The predominant predators of Bighorn sheep are Mountain Lions and Coyotes but the greatest threats they face are those inherent to their environment. Most Bighorns are killed by falling rocks or by falls from the steep cliffs they inhabit. Bighorns are also susceptible to diseases born by domestic sheep and are sensitive to the negative environmental impact of careless humans.
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