A Bachelor Group or Band of male Colorado Bighorn Sheep ranging from youngsters all the way up to the mature male leader. Their gray coloring makes them very hard to see among the boulders and sparse vegetation around 8,000 feet elevation. Filmed near the Arkansas River in Cotopaxi, Colorado.
Bighorn are social animals, maintaining order through a strict hierarchy. Through much of the year, the rams live in bachelor
“bands” or groups. The ewes, lambs and immature animals live in nursery bands led by a dominant ewe. During the mating season, late fall through early winter, the groups join each other on a common courtship ground. Two subspecies of bighorn live in Colorado.
Most familiar to viewers, Rocky Mountain bighorn
inhabit the foothills and mountains. Smaller in size and slightly lighter-colored, desert bighorn sheep live in the canyon
country of western Colorado.
Bighorn sheep are native to Colorado.
They live on sunny mountain slopes, usually above 8,000
feet, where there is plenty of grass and a clear uphill
escape route. Stocky-bodied with strong legs, bighorn
sheep are well-designed for bounding over mountain
slopes. Their flexible hooves are equipped with soft,
spongy pads to help cling to rocks. Even newborn lambs
can follow their mothers over the rugged terrain within a
few days of their birth.
Bighorn once ranged from the high mountains to
the prairie near the foothills, moving downslope
in winter. Settlement brought fences, roads, ranches and towns
that disrupted the sheep’s migration patterns. Fire
suppression reduced sheep habitat by allowing forests
to expand into mountain grasslands. In addition,
unregulated hunting in the 1800s and introduced
diseases reduced the number of bighorn in the region.
Today bighorn are mostly restricted to foothills,
canyons and high mountains.
Sheep do not pioneer new range or move to new
habitats easily, even those adjacent to areas in current
use. Limited habitat can lead to overcrowding, stressing
the animals and spreading disease. In the last half of the
20th century, sheep management focused on restoring
bighorn to their historic range by transplanting some
from larger, stronger herds. Today wildlife managers
emphasize efforts to maintain healthy populations
by enhancing habitat — through methods such as
controlled burns — and managing disease. Keeping
domestic sheep separate from bighorn populations
reduces the risk of transmitting non-native diseases to
wild sheep. Hunting is also used as a management tool
to maintain healthy herd densities.
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