Impact to Society



Bighorn sheep are alert animals, always cautious of predators. Even something innocent as a flock of birds can startle an entire herd. Some of their megafauna predators include: mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, and bears. Although they have no physical weapons for defense, predation is not a major concern. Their speed, endurance, and adaptation to the terrain allows for quick escapes.

However, sheep rarely live past the age of twelve. Diseases and forest destruction account for the biggest decline in bighorn sheep populations. Bighorns are at risk of contracting over two dozen different types of parasites, ranging form ticks and mites to bot fly and lungworm. Lungworm is a major concern for sheep because sheep eat grass, the hiding place of lungworm. They infect the sheep, releasing larvae which migrate from the digestive tract into the lungs, preventing the sheep from breathing. Another major concern is pink eye. The sheep can lose their sight, frightening them to run in circles. This is leads to the animals hurting themselves by accidentally falling off cliffs.                            

Bighorn sheep are herbivores, eating primarily grass and other green, non-woody plants. In fact, they thrive on the tough vegetation other animals cannot digest, allowing for an abundance of food during the growing season. With a 4 chambered stomach, they are able to utilize bacteria and protozoans to digest the cellulose in vegetation. Their diet includes grass, leaves, shrubs, cacti, and various others. However, sheep are ruminants, meaning when nutrition is low, can swallow their food without much chewing. Later, they can regurgitate the food, known as a cud, and thoroughly chew it. This allows the bacteria and protozoans more time to break down the cellulose, increasing the energy gain from a food source. On average, the daily food intake of a bighorn is 3 pounds of plant material. During the winter, Rocky Mountain bigorns eat snow for their water source, while desert bighorns must eat food with a high water concentration in order to get their required water amounts. However, during the summer all bighorns cannot range far away from a watering source, filling up every 3-5 days.