Courtesy of the National Park Service
Desert Bighorn Sheep
The Desert Bighorn Sheep can often be seen along the rocky shoreline of both Lake Mead and Lake Mohave during the months of June, July and August. High temperatures require the sheep to water about every three days. Ewes that are still suckling their lambs usually have to drink every day. The six mountain ranges in Lake Mead National Recreation Area contain many sheep. A significant portion of the world population of Desert Bighorn Sheep is found in the southwest deserts of North America. If you visit some of the petroglyph sites in Lake Mead Nat'l Recreation Area, Valley of Fire State Park or other areas in the southwest you will find that the sheep was a favorite subject on the Indian drawing boards.
Since the first settlers and explorers entered the mountains of Nevada and Arizona the Desert Bighorn Sheep has aroused a romantic and mystic image. It is identified with the traditional roughness and harshness of its craggy, rough, rocky wilderness habitat.
Due to hunting practices, domestic sheep diseases, and grazing pressure in the early 1900s, Desert Bighorn Sheep were extirpated from many mountain ranges in the southwest. A cooperative program between the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the states of Nevada and Arizona was started in the 1970s to transplant Desert Bighorn Sheep from healthy populations in the park to areas that once supported this majestic animal. Over the past years many sheep have been transplanted from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to five different states and two different National Park System areas. This program will help sustain sheep in their original habitats for future years.
The Desert Bighorn Sheep have been fairing well in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, despite draught conditions. Although the sheep have had to travel a little further during their foraging, the life sustaining waters of the lakes and a few springs have kept the populations stable. Yearly helicopter surveys of the local sheep provide both long term biological and population information: the number of rams and their estimated ages, the number of ewes, and the number of lambs. Water sources are identified and food or forage condition is noted. It is this information and much more that allow the biologists and managers of the National Park Service, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Arizona Game and Fish Department to make sound management decisions regarding the Desert Bighorn Sheep. How many hunting permits can be issued? Can sheep be removed for transplant purposes? Will current conditions support present populations?
With continued surveys and research information to help managers make informed decisions, descendants of those Desert Bighorns seen in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area will be seen and remembered in their majestic splendor by your descendants in years to come as they boat, hike or explore the area.