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The bighorn sheep is a type of wild sheep that inhabit mountainous or rocky terrain areas. The sheep lives in desert or dry areas with mountain landscape. According to Holl, Bleich and Torres (2011), the bighorn sheep are usually found in parts of California, Siberia, northern Arizona and South Utah. Holl, Bleich and Torres (2011) further estimate that the total population of bighorn sheep in the world is eight hundred thousand, out of which two and fifty thousand live in Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree is a national park in the south east of California, United States of America. Stelfox (2006) argues that bighorn sheep species occupy hot desert ecosystems.

The bighorn sheep is scientifically referred to as Ovis Canadensis (Rezakhani & Edjtehadi, 2009). Recent research studies on the genetic composition and structure of bighorn sheep have shown that Ovis Canadensis can be divided further into three sub-species; namely the Desert bighorn, Sierra bighorn and Mountain bighorn. The Ovis Canadensis sierra specie from Rocky Mountains of Sierra is one of the most endangered species. The Joshua Tree bighorn sheep is closely related to mountain dwelling sheep that live in Siberia. The bighorn sheep are named for their large curved horns that are borne by the male sheep. The female sheep also have horns that are shorter and less curved as compared to those of males. Cain and Jorgenson (2011) also urge that bighorn sheep are mainly found in North America.

Brief History of Joshua Tree Bighorn Sheep. The Joshua Tree bighorn sheep is believed to have originated form Bering land bridge in Siberia. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the population of bighorn sheep in North America was estimated to be between one million six hundred thousand and two million. In addition, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were nearly seven hundred thousand bighorn sheep at Joshua Tree National Park. However, this number has greatly reduced to only eighty thousand as at October 2011. The massive decrease in population of the Joshua Tree bighorn sheep is due to a variety of factors such as predation that are discussed later in this paper. The Joshua Tree bighorn sheep belongs to a family of wild sheep found in mountains in North America and Siberia.

Characteristics of Joshua Tree Bighorn Sheep. The Joshua Tree bighorn sheep have massive brown horns that are curled downwards over the ears. Male sheep weigh between sixty kilograms and one hundred and fifty kilograms whereas the female sheep weigh between thirty kilograms to ninety kilograms. According to Zumbo, Vance and Grunko Films (2008), the body length of male sheep range from one hundred and fifty centimeters to two hundred centimeters while females are one hundred and forty to one hundred and seventy centimeters long. Bighorn sheep from Joshua Tree National Park weigh up to two hundred and fifty kilograms. In contrast, male bighorn sheep in Sierra Nevada weigh up to only ninety kilograms. The fully grown horns of Joshua Tree bighorn sheep usually weigh approximately fourteen kilograms or thirty pounds. Generally, male Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are bigger than their female counterparts. The Joshua Tree bighorn sheep usually move in flocks or herds of ten to twenty animals, composed of two or three males, ewes and lambs. In some cases, the rams may also create herds of male-only sheep.

Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are also susceptible to certain diseases such as scabies and pneumonia that are carried by domestic sheep (Cassirer & Sinclair, 2010). This high susceptibility has led to massive decrease in populations of the bighorn sheep in Joshua Tree National Park. In addition, Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are also prone to accidents that result from falling rocks or cliffs from mountain slopes.

Below is a presentation of a part of an interview that I carried out with a game warder at Joshua Tree National Park in order to find out more information about the Joshua Tree bighorn sheep. Some of the answers have been paraphrased for academic purposes.

Question 1:  What are some of the major problems or challenges faced by Joshua Tree bighorn sheep?. Answer: One of the major challenges faced by Joshua Tree bighorn sheep is hunting. Most people in North America usually hunt the bighorn sheep for its precious horn as well as the meat. The meat is usually used as food, especially during ceremonial occasions. Secondly, the bighorn sheep is faced with stiff competition for grazing grounds from domestic animals and other herbivorous animals within the park. For example, the gazelles compete with bighorn sheep for grass, plant shoots and shrubs. Thirdly, susceptible diseases such as scabies that are spread by domestic livestock have greatly distraught the population of Joshua Tree bighorn sheep. Fourthly, the bighorn sheep faces human disturbances that result activities such as farming and clearing of bush for human habitation. This has led to massive loss of habitat for the Joshua Tree bighorn sheep. According to Franzmann (2008), loss of habitat is one of the most current and high expanding challenges faced by Joshua Tree bighorn sheep. Last but not least, the bighorn sheep are challenged with natural predation form wild carnivores such as lions, bobcats, coyotes and cougars. The sheep are usually killed by such predators hence reducing their populations.

Question 2: For how long do the Joshua Tree bighorn sheep live?. Answer: The bighorn sheep live for approximately nine to 15 years. According to Zumbo, Vance and Grunko films (2008), the male sheep or rams live between nine and thirteen years whereas the females or ewes live for a period of ten to 15 years.

Question 3: What are some of the predators of Joshua Tree bighorn sheep?. Answer: The natural predators of Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are mainly wild animals such as mountain lions, bears, bobcats and coyotes. The wolves and cougars also kill bighorn sheep as their primary preys. Moreover, golden eagles usually feed on the young ones (lambs) of bighorn sheep although they may not be able to kill the adult sheep. According to Mooring, Fitzpatrick and Hall (2009), predation of bighorn sheep usually starts with the lambs that are highly targeted by coyotes, lynxes and golden eagles. Although natural predation is minimal, its persistent is a major threat to the populations of Joshua Tree bighorn sheep. In order to cope with threats from predators, Joshua Tree Big Horn sheep have become well adapted to climbing steep and rocky terrains swiftly as a way of escaping from the predators.

Question 4: What do Joshua Tree bighorn sheep eat?. Answer: The diet for Joshua Tree bighorn sheep may vary according to the habitat as well as the season, for example, the sheep often feed on grass and sedges during summer and woody plants and rabbit brush during the winter. However, the sheep generally feed on grasses and desert shrubs such as catclaw, acacia and sweetbush as their primary food. The bighorn sheep may also feed on forbs. It is also important to note that Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are opportunistic and flexible feeders that change their diet according to the availability of food.

Question 5: What is the breeding season for Joshua Tree bighorn sheep?. Answer:  The breeding season, also known as rut, for the bighorn sheep usually starts in late July or early August and ends in November. However, the Rocky Mountain species of bighorn sheep usually breed between October and February. During the breeding season, male sheep (rams) often clash their heads as they fight for the female sheep (ewes). The strong rams often dominate during breeding. Joshua Tree bighorn sheep have a gestation period of six months and usually give birth to one lamb every year.

Question: Briefly discuss the lambing season. Answer: The lambing seasons for bighorn sheep may vary from one location to another as well time of the year. For Joshua Tree bighorn sheep, the lambing period usually runs from January to early July. Most births also occur between January and March. Expectant female sheep usually isolate themselves from the flock in steep and rocky areas a few days before giving birth. This is to provide adequate protection to the newly born lambs from natural predators. In addition, the young ones often follow their mothers for a period of one year after birth. This helps the lambs to acquire adequate knowledge about the habitats as well as general behaviors such as how to avoid potential predators.

The Role/Connection of Joshua Bighorn Sheep with the Environment. Joshua Tree bighorn sheep are good indicators of health problems due to their high sensitivity to environmental problems induced by human beings. This helps in treatment of various diseases such as pneumonia. Moreover, due to their close relation with domestic sheep, the bighorn sheep can also be used for research purposes to determine diseases that are likely to affect domestic livestock, especially sheep. The bighorn sheep is also hunted by human beings for its meat and horns. According to Franzmann (2008), the horns are used for making trophies.

Other interesting facts about Joshua Tree bighorn sheep include the ability of males to fight for more than eighteen hours by colliding their heads and horns as they fight for the female sheep during the breeding season. In addition, the male sheep are ranked according to the size of their horns. Rams with larger horns that are more curled are ranked higher, hence dominate the flocks. The clashing of horns by male sheep as they fight for ewes can also be heard two miles away. Lastly, Joshua Tree bighorn sheep rare use water during the winter when green vegetation is readily available.  In conclusion, Joshua Tree bighorn sheep is an interesting wild animal to learn about.

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