Category Archives: Bighorns

New Life For New Mexico’s Bighorns

If looks could kill I would have been a dead man.

The ewe fixated on me with a focused intensity.

It was obvious she knew I was a stranger in her rocky domain and I suspected her to bolt at any time.

But as clacking sounded from the rocks below, she broke the stare and looked down.

Up came her baby, a gorgeous Rocky Mountain bighorn born this spring and already masterfully moving up through this gorgeous and treacherous gorge.

lamb running.JPG
Bighorn lambs can weigh as much as 70 pounds during their first winter. This one was climbing up to find its mother. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

After the lamb came up, eight more bighorns moved up into the plains above the gorge. It was an incredible sight and is proof of New Mexico’s hard work to see its bighorn populations increase.

According to Nicole Tatman, Big Game Program Manager for the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (Game & Fish), the state has populations of both Rocky Mountain and desert bighorns.

“We actively manage both herds and are always evaluating populations and areas where we can translocate sheep from abundant herds into areas that need more or that currently do not have sheep,” Tatman said.

In 2018, Game & Fish officials released 40 desert bighorns in Alamogordo and over the last decade stockings of Rocky Mountain bighorns in the Rio Grande Gorge and near Bandelier National Monument have proven successful.

The state is able to conduct translocations from its own herd and has seen significant progress in its sheep program. According to Game & Fish officials their desert bighorn herd was an estimated 170 in 2001 and now sits at over 1,000. Rocky Mountain bighorn populations edge that out and are expanding into suitable habitat.

And suitable habitat can change.

The tragic Las Conchas fire that consumed more than 150,000 acres created treeless habitat in the mountains that is perfect for bighorns.

Controlled fire is a practice that benefits sheep along with other wildlife like New Mexico’s Merriam’s turkeys, so it is interesting to see that even after something as catastrophic as that fire, hope can arise.

I plan to do more expeditions into New Mexico in search of bighorns in the next year, focusing both on the desert and Rocky Mountain herds.

ram 1 crop
Chances are this young ram won’t be contributing his genetic this year but he sure showed an interest in this ewe. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.

Just before the sheep I found disappeared into their rocky habitat, a young ram tried to make a move on an older ewe. You could tell it wasn’t quite his time yet but the instincts are there.

And those instincts to reproduce, persevere and expand will keep hope alive for New Mexico’s bighorns in the coming years.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Bighorn Threat?

When discussing issues impacting bighorn sheep in the United States, three main issues dominate the conversation.

  1. Domestic Sheep Disease Transference
  2. Predation
  3. Habitat Loss/Degradation

And those should be the three primary concerns but there is a growing threat in the Western United States.

Feral hogs.

Hogs polluted all water sources they use to some level. (Public Domain Photo)

Originally brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, feral hogs have taken a foothold in 31 states and there is no question they will eventually move into all of the Lower 48.

According to an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs are a major threat to wildlife through water pollution.

“Water polluted from feral swine wallowing can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria such as giardia, salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli that could be transmitted to humans and other animals. This can happen when feral swine use an agricultural water source, such as an irrigation pond…”

They noted since hogs lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature.

“Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.”

Looking at a current distribution map, it is easy to see hogs are already established in the entirety of desert bighorn habitat in Texas and California and are also growing in numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.

In drought years in particular hogs will impact ponds, stock tanks, streams and guzzlers. These of course are crucial to bighorns and other wildlife.

Feral hogs can also carry pseudorabies.

According to USDA officials, pseudorabies is a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats.

“Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, (abortion, stillbirths), respiratory problems and occasional deaths in breeding and finishing hogs. Infected newborn pigs may exhibit central nervous system clinical signs.”

It is typically spread through direct contact but there are other ways transmission can occur.

“If present on inanimate objects, such as boots, clothing, feed, trucks, and equipment, the virus can also spread from herd to herd and farm to farm.”

Could hogs transfer PRV to domestic sheep that in turn transfer to bighorns?

Maybe.

And that’s a frightening prospect for animals already facing great challenges.

Desert bighorns in particular could be subject to issues with feral hogs during droughts when all water sources in their range are incredibly valuable. Polluted waterholes could be the source of problem for sheep. (Public Domain Photo)

Another potential threat from hogs is predation.

According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, “wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats.”

There is no question hogs could prey on bighorn lambs, especially desert bighorn lambs in the early days of their life. I have found no concrete evidence of hog/wild sheep predation but it remains a possibility.

I will dig more into hog predation on other ungulates in another post but for now just consider what has been presented here.

No one thought 30 years ago feral hogs would now be hunted in New Jersey and more hogs would be killed by hunters in Texas than whitetails.

Could a growing population of hogs in the western United States put more stress on bighorn populations?

I believe it is a possibility, especially the water pollution and disease aspects.

I’ll let you know more as soon as I do.

Chester Moore, Jr.

License For Bighorns

The desert bighorn sheep is now officially a celebrity in Texas.

A new conservation license plate features a stunning bighorn image and those who purchase them for $30 get the satisfaction of knowing $22 goes directly to sheep conservation efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

The new plate design is a first for TPWD.

“Our longtime plate artist, Clemente Guzman, retired, so we decided to use a photograph of a majestic Bighorn Sheep proudly looking into the desert—and perhaps its future,” said Janis Johnson with the TPWD Conservation License Plate program.

“We conducted an online survey with thousands of hunters and conservationists and had them rank several designs for a Bighorn Sheep plate and a Pronghorn plate. The Bighorn Sheep was the overwhelming favorite.”

Diehard hunters and wildlife enthusiasts know bighorns are native to Texas. The mainstream of those user groups however have no idea about Texas rich bighorn legacy and the amazing conservation efforts it took to get them back on the mountains of the Trans-Pecos.

Wild sheep have been a source of interest to me since I clipped out a statistics chart from a TPWD magazine during my childhood and put it in my dream hunt scrapbook.

I did so to serve as a reminder that we should always put in more than we take.

The author's scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.
The author’s scrapbook page from a 1976 Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine shows a stunning difference in game populations over a good portion of the 20th Century. Bighorns have made a massive comeback since then due to diligent conservation efforts.

That graph showed 100 bighorns in Texas in 1928 and 40 in 1976, just a few years before I made this clipping.

For a six year old who was already knew about the Grand Slam of sheep this was frightening.

Now according to TPWD Desert Bighorn Program Leader Froylan Hernandez there are around, 1,500 which is at historical highs.

Desert bighorn sheep in Texas (Photo Courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

TPWD’s leadership along with the vision of the Texas Bighorn Society and help from the Wild Sheep Foundation have helped make this a modern-day conservation success story of epic proportions.

But the future is uncertain.

It will take a broader awareness of their presence in the arid Trans Pecos to support things like proper domestic sheep grazing practices so their diseases do not impact the easily infected bighorns.

This license plate along with the media blitz that has introduced it will go a long way and creating a path for bighorns to find their way into the mainstream Texas wildlife consciousness.

New generations must learn of these great animals and be inspired to help them.

Through our Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center me and my wife Lisa work with children in the foster system and those with terminal illness and who have lost a parent or sibling. We give them the wildlife encounter of their dreams through our Wild Wishes program.

The license plate has given me a chance to integrate wild sheep conservation awareness into our programs.

When I showed a group of kids at foster children’s home e a monster set Gobi argali horns I asked them what type of animal they came from.

The author teaches children at a foster home about wild sheep conservation.

A couple said deer, while one said antelope.

Most of the others said it was a ram.

When told that a ram is a male of a particular kind of animal none of them knew it was a sheep.

Several expectedly thought rams were male goats. (This seems to be a common belief-even among adults.)

When I told them we had wild rams in Texas in the form of the desert bighorn sheep they lit up. And they thought it was even cooler that we will have a special conservation license plate to help them.

That’s just a tiny example of the kind of conversations the new license plate will generate.

Impactful conservation takes awareness, money and creativity and all of those are present in this project.

In the long run the bighorns of Texas will benefit greatly from this small step toward the mainstream.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Wild Sheep foundation-Gray Thornton (PodCAST)

Did you know bighorn sheep are slowly moving back into Oklahoma?

Yep, Oklahoma.

How cool is that?

Have you ever heard of Asia’s Marco Polo Sheep-a massive mountain dweller that lives exclusively in elevations of 12-15,000 feet?

Oh and by the way , the rams sport horns upwards of 60 inches in length.

Learn about this and much, much more in the podcast of my radio program “Moore Outdoors” (May 25 edition) as I interview Gray Thornton, President & CEO of The Wild Sheep Foundation.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Wild sheep have a deep personal meaning in my life dating back to early childhood when I would sit with my Dad and cut out photos of wildlife from Sports Afield, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and place them in a scrapbook.

Wild sheep and wild turkeys were my favorites.

This photo of a Stone sheep is one of many wild sheep photos in the author’s recently rediscovered childhood scrapbook. Since he cant this photo out of a Sports Afield Stone sheep have been his favorite wild sheep.

Dad passed away of natural causes on a hunting trip with me five years ago but the memories of sitting in his lap and clipping out those photos will never fade.

A recent discovery of one of these scrapbooks in a storage vault brought back a flood of emotions and reminded me that a love of wild sheep has been with me my whole life. Check out the podcast which is from one of the best radio broadcasts in “Moore Outdoors” 20 year history.

Listen to learn about wild sheep of the world and to be inspired by their amazing conservation story.

Chester Moore, Jr.