These two bighorn rams are beautiful specimens but compared to some of the other species of wild sheep, they are rather small.
I was on the edge of Yellowstone Park years ago when a group of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep began feeding toward me. I ate my lunch and they ate theirs, gradually getting closer and closer until I could almost touch them. I had heard that bighorns sometimes behave this way but it was the first time I had seen it. Over the years hiking in Yellowstone, specifically near Specimen Mountain and on the trail to Dunraven Lookout, I have since had bighorn sheep act as if I were not there and it has always been a thrilling experience.
Last week, I saw another kind of wild sheep; desert bighorn sheep. These were in Arizona but I have also had close encounters with desert bighorns in Valley of Fire near Overton, Nevada. Last week’s sheep stood on the edge of a cliff not far above Burro Creek Campground and stared down, seemingly unconcerned, on us.
Wild sheep. In North America that means Rocky Mountain bighorn, desert bighorn, Stone sheep and Dall sheep. The latter two are found in northwest Canada and Alaska. Two sub-species, the California Rocky Mountain bighorn and the Fannin Stone sheep are also recognized. If there is a single animal that personifies wild country, it may be this group of sheep. They inhabit some of the toughest country on the continent and thrive in weather extremes from desert to arctic.
Like most animals though, they tend to live in the gentlest country that suits their needs. For instance, during the 1830’s, the foothills surrounding Pocatello were renowned for their bighorn sheep populations. This country is pretty modest when compared to, say, the Teton Range, but sheep abounded there until hunting pressure wiped them out.
Once you leave this continent, wild sheep takes on a much broader meaning. They have exotic names like, mouflon, argali, aoudad, urial, dalmatian, Marco Polo and tur and hail from equally exotic places such as Mongolia, China, Tajikistan, Croatia, Pakistan and North Africa. And they are equally unique looking, often with long hair and curling horns that would make a bighorn ram hide in shame. A trophy Argali or a Marco Polo ram can have horn tips that spread to five feet.
To be called a wild sheep, the animal is usually of the genus, Ovis, the same genus as domestic sheep. Aoudads, also known as Barbary sheep, however, are classified as members of the genus Ammotragus. However, they are still considered one of the 12 sheep species required for an international hunting grand slam.
When I saw the desert bighorns last week, I had to make sure of what I was seeing. About 60 years ago, several sheep species, including aoudad sheep, were transplanted to Texas where they promptly escaped into the wild and spread into neighboring states including Arizona. These sheep are tough and now co-exist with desert bighorns from the driest deserts up to snowline.
I have seen Rocky Mountain bighorns, Dall sheep and desert bighorn sheep. However, if I am going to see the rest of the world’s sheep species, I am going to have to do it in zoos. These days, the mountains are too big, the travel too far and the cost too extreme to see them in nature, unless of course, I get lucky in Arizona or Texas.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.
I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho