As the seasonal page turns to fall, love is in the air for the wide variety of wildlife that mate during autumn.
As animals compete for mates, species like deer and elk begin to lock antlers with one another as they fight for the right to reproduce, and try their best to impress prospective females. Arguably no animal’s ritualistic mating display is more wild than big horn sheep though.
Wild sheep are one of the most iconic species of wildlife in North America, but by 1900 their population was hovering down around just several thousand due to diseases introduced from domestic sheep and over hunting of the species.
However, thanks to proactive conservation efforts and targeted reintroductions of sheep throughout their native range, their populations have rebounded nicely.
Through wild sheep transplants, research, water development, predator management, educational outreach and other initiatives, the numbers of wild sheep has soared in North America, from around 25,000 in the 1950s to more than 85,000 today.
No conservation grouphas done more to promote the restoration of wild sheep populations and the enhancement of their habitat than the Wild Sheep Foundation. In terms of hunting, bighorn sheep are among the most heavily regulated and monitored animals on the planet and drawing a tag to hunt a wild sheep is at the top of most hunters bucket lists, even though actually going on a sheep hunt is not necessarily economically feasible for most hunters.
The species is named for the huge curling horns that crown the heads of male sheep, also known as rams. Female sheep also have horns, but they’re shorter and less curved than the horns of rams. Those horns are not just for show though, they’re for made for fighting.
Dominant rams typically weigh as much as 300-pounds and rams over 500-pounds have been documented. Their horns can weigh as much as 30-pounds, which is as much as all of the other bones in their bodies combined.
Rams use their strong muscles to launch their heads into the skulls of other competing males like a battering ram (no pun intended). Bighorn rams have several ecological adaptations that absorb the impact of these clashes and its amazing that somehow they avoid brain damage during battle, though the horns themselves often do display signs of damage.
Though rams will occasionally butt heads year round, most of the clashes take place at around this time of year as they fight for dominance and establishing a hierarchy for breeding. As two rams joust, they will typically walk several paces away from each other like two cowboys walking off a duel, then turn and face each other before getting a running start and launching into each other head first.
They will also push each other around with their heads to show off their strength.
The Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife recently posted footage of two rams jousting for dominance in the Rocky Mountains and used the video to remind folks the importance of keeping their distance from wildlife, especially this time of year when their testosterone is pumping and tensions are high.
The National Park Service also offers some tips for those who wish try and observe bighorn sheep in the wild.
“Wildlife is wild. What’s a Colorado wildlife viewing encounter that left you in awe—and maybe a little frightened—of nature?
REMINDER: Observe animals from a safe distance—safe for you and safe for the animals. You can get a close-up view by using binoculars, a spotting scope or a camera with a telephoto lens (like the one used here).”