A Herd of Bighorn Sheep

By Dan Weisz

All of us in the Foothills know that we have a sizable herd of Bighorn Sheep who live in the mountains behind our homes.  Although most of us are not gifted with seeing these magnificent animals, we still appreciate their presence.  Recently I saw a different herd of Bighorn Sheep.  Viewing this herd gave me an even greater appreciation for the group that lives near us.

I have passed through Boulder City countless times on the way to and from visiting grandchildren in Las Vegas.  Boulder City was created  during the Great Depression to support the workers who were building Hoover Dam.  Currently, Boulder City is one of only two places in Nevada that prohibit gambling.  I recently learned that Boulder City has a hidden jewel at the base of Black Mountain- Hemenway Park.  Periodically, Bighorn Sheep who live in the mountains west of Lake Mead will come down from the mountains to forage and rest in the park which is sometimes referred to as Hemenway Valley Park. Recently on the way home from Las Vegas, I thought I’d try my luck again.  This time, the sheep were there!

One of the views of the park overlooking Lake Mead.  (And a reminder that all comments in this email refer to the photo below the comments!)

There were over 40 sheep in the park, divided into three general groups.   This large ram was one of the closest ones in a group and the presence of a female Gambel’s Quail set the tone for this site!  While this sheep is sitting in the sun, you can see that the harsh, mid-morning sun combined with the shade made for less than ideal photo prospects.

Still, the subjects were so attractive.  Here is a Bighorn Ewe resting in the shade.  The female sheep are much smaller than the males and their horns are not “big” horns but are shorter with less curvature.  Just beyond the park you can see the dry, desert hills where the sheep permanently live.

A Ram rests surrounded by his harem.  July marks the beginning of the “rut” season which may explain this grouping.  During the rest of the year the males usually remain separate from the females.  One of the sheep is wearing a collar suggesting she was either part of a study or was relocated to this range to promote genetic diversity.  

Profile of a strong Bighorn Ram:  Bighorn rams might weigh over 300 pounds with a large pair of horns which weigh up to 30 pounds.  The ’thing’ in front of its eye is a gland that produces secretions.  That gland contains pheromones and other compounds that may serve to establish a sheep’s dominance, mark its territory, or just to provide a good scent.  It is an unusual and very noticeable feature.

Again, the lighting made it tough to take the best photos but this particular ram was very active, confronting other rams and wandering throughout the time I observed the herd.  Here, it had just gotten its horns caught in the creosote bush and, after extracting them, paused to check out the herd from behind the creosote.  He rejoined the herd after this.

Typically, all of the rams mostly sat or slept.  Many of the rams showed some damage to the ends of their horns.  Bighorn Sheep do not shed their horns annually,  Animals with “antlers” do shed their antlers.  The Bighorns’ horns are permanent and continue to grow during the sheep’s lifetime.  Damage to the ends may come from clashes with other males during rutting season, or crashes into rocks, or something referred to as “brooming” which means grinding off the ends of the horns.  Perhaps this is done when the end of the horn interferes with the sheep’s vision.

The sheep who had wandered eventually returned to the group.  His expression is a sign that he is smelling the scent of a female.  This is called a Flehman response.  

Here is a pair of Bighorn Rams at rest.

I thought this young ram looked interesting.  He is still shedding his winter coat, creating a very uneven look to his fur.

The strength and size of this ram is striking.

This ram looked funny to me.  Perhaps he was out too late last night partying!  Then again, the temperature was well over 100° in the shade.

Here is a beautiful portrait of a Bighorn ewe.  Bighorn sheep have excellent vision and are always alert, watching for predators. 

Another portrait of a large Bighorn Ram.

I don’t know why this ram doesn’t just stand up to eat.  Perhaps in the heat it is easier to snack from this position!!

And finally, this ewe wandered away from the herd.  She was grazing on some bermuda grasses at the edge of the park.

Although we only spent a half hour at the park, it was a visit I’ll always remember.  And I do plan to drop by Hemenway Park the next time I visit the grandchildren!

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