Pajarito Group: Where are our bighorn sheep?

By Jody Benson

Last September, the Los Alamos community was astonished to see a bighorn ram wandering along Trinity Drive. He is one of 35 adults (plus 10 lambs) trapped from the large herd on Wheeler Peak, and helicoptered to a holding pen before being trucked to Cochiti tribal lands. From Cochiti Canyon, the herd dispersed north and south (including to Los Alamos), but reconvened in time for breeding season. As of April, there has been only one mortality, a ewe that interacted with domestic livestock. New Mexico Game and Fish euthanized her to prevent her transmitting a fatal disease (e.g., domestic sheep pneumonia) that would decimate the wild herd as has happened throughout the West.

Even though this herd came from the high, cold Sangre de Cristos, New Mexico Game and Fish is confident that these sheep will adapt to the desert. (Desert bighorn and Rocky Mountain bighorn are the same species: Ovis canadensis. The difference is simply in where they live.) Survival depends on open areas and cliffs from which the sheep can spot predators.

The Las Conchas Fire and subsequent flooding scoured out the timber in many canyons that drain the Jemez south from Bandelier, making this area prime habitat for bighorn to thrive.

Listen for the clatter of pebbles from the cliffs, and look up for sheep as you scramble through these canyons this summer. You might see a newborn lamb on tiptoe watching your progress.

Featured Photo by Magnus Kjaergaard
License [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pajarito Group: Where are our bighorn sheep?