Bighorns have BIG HORNS! My horns make me very macho. In a really big male (called a ram), the horns can weigh up to 30 pounds, more than the weight of all of my bones combined! Can you imagine carrying that much weight on your head? It makes my neck very strong! I use my enormous horns to spar with other males for mating rights. In the late fall, during our mating season, the clash of our headbutts echos through the canyons and steep mountains where we live. Mating season is the only time we spend time with females, following them around to get their attention, and chasing smaller males away. (The rest of the year we hang out with other males in bachelor flocks, and then we get along just fine. Females, called ewes, have horns that are much smaller than the males’. They spend their time together with their lambs and young. Young female sheep will remain with their mother’s flock forever, but young males will leave the flock to hang out with the guys.
Like many other animals in Wyoming, we move up and down mountains with the seasons. We spend the summer at high elevations, but move to more protected and less snow-covered areas in winter. Always we try to stay in rough and rugged terrain. We are very good at climbing steep slopes and negotiating narrow ridges. Our steep mountain habitat and our keen senses protect us a bit from predators, but cougars and golden eagles often eat our lambs.
Unfortunately, predators are the least of our problems. Although we were once very abundant and our kind numbered in the millions, there are very few of us left. In addition to unregulated hunting in the past, we have died, and continue to die, in large numbers from diseases carried by domestic sheep. Diseases that do not affect domestic sheep very much, such as pneumonia, are deadly for us. It seems there is no way to prevent the spread of disease from domestic sheep to us, if we share a common ground—they are like poison to us. Humans can reintroduce us to all of the mountain ranges where we used to live, but unless we are kept far apart from our domestic cousins, we will still die of disease. Protecting all the landscapes that we use in all seasons is essential for our survival.