By Dan Weisz
Recently I heard that some Bighorn Sheep were sighted low in the Catalina Foothills. When I went looking I found six large rams, basking in the sun. Several years ago Bighorn Sheep were reintroduced to the Catalinas by Arizona Game and Fish and a consortium of groups.
The largest ram that I saw was on the rock above the other five. He is distinguished by the chip/missing layer in his right horn and he had some vegetation stuck in his lip, looking like he had a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. A set of horns can weigh as much as 30 pounds and Bighorn Rams may way up to 300 pounds.
The other five rams were on the slope below him. During the short time I was there, the sheep were not active. I did not spend much time there as I did not want to bother the sheep or make them anxious by my presence. The sheep may have come down low to feed on the extensive amount of brittlebush growing at lower elevations.
The two rams on the right both looked very mature with large horns. Generally, sheep herds are separated by gender so that is why there are only males in this grouping.
Here is the pair of rams who were sitting on the left of the group photo. Five of the sheep in this group did not have tags or collars. In some later re-introductions of sheep to the Catalinas, some of the sheep were neither tagged nor collared. Sheep reintroductions ended in 2016 and the herd is thriving.
At midday “purple 33” moved to another spot. It appears that his horns do not have as large of a curl as the other rams have, making me think this is the youngest ram of the herd. This is a five year old ram, brought to the Catalinas in 2016 as a two year old in the final group of sheep reintroduced to the Catalinas.
Finally, a closeup of the largest ram. You can see that chip missing from his horn. Rams fight to decide who will be the dominant male in their group. During the fight, the males will face each other, rear up on their back legs, and then crash their huge horns into each other. They can charge as fast as 40 mph and, weighing anywhere from 260-300 pounds, you can imagine the force of the two heavy rams crashing into each other at that speed.
By the way, that slit in front of the ram’s eye is a scent gland common to many hoofed animals and may be used to scent mark and to mark territory.
We are all very fortunate to live in the Foothills and share our world with magnificent creatures like these Bighorn Sheep.