Species of the Week – Nelson Desert Bighorn Sheep


Ovis canadensis nelsoni
NEW_Bighorn_Sheep_mapBorrego cimarron (Sp), Nuslen Dickhornschaf (G), Mouflon du desert (F). The subspecific name was given in 1897 for American naturalist E. W. Nelson.
DESCRIPTION (male) Shoulder height about 36 inches (90 cm). Weight 150-170 pounds (68-77 kg). Females are about 60 percent as large as males.
Essentially, the desert sheep is a bighorn that has adapted to a hot, arid environment with limited forage and water. It is smaller than the Rocky Mountain bighorn, with a smaller skull, bigger ears, paler color and a short coat. (Desert bighorns are also smaller than Stone sheep, Dall sheep, and Siberian snow sheep.) The white rump patch is smaller and usually is divided by a dark tail stripe. The horns are almost as large as those of a Rocky Mountain bighorn and tend to have more flare. This-combined with the smaller body size and shorter coat-makes the horns of a good desert ram appear huge and almost out of proportion to its body. Females have short, thin horns.

Record-Book-Promo-2015HABITAT Desert mountains with sufficient permanent water. Water is essential. While desert sheep may forage for considerable distances, they must return to drink every few days during hot weather.

DISTRIBUTION Arizona:Northwest part of the state. California: Southeastern part, mainly in the Mohave Desert, but also in the Colorado Desert in the far south. Colorado: Southwestern part, south of the Colorado River and west of the Gunnison River. Nevada: Southern part. Texas: Western part. Utah: Southwestern and southcentral part of the state.

REMARKS The desert bighorn is usually the last ram of a “grand slam” to be taken, and is often never taken at all. It must be hunted on foot in steep mountains with crumbling rock and under hot, waterless conditions. But the greatest obstacle is the lack of permits. Limited permits are available through drawing in Arizona, Nevada and a few other states, but few permits are allotted to non-residents.

SoW-Brett-ScottTAXONOMIC NOTES Our desert bighorn sheep category consists of four subspecies listed by Cowan (1940): Nelson bighorn (nelsoni), from southeastern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northwestern Arizona; Mexican bighorn (mexicana), from most of Arizona, southwestern New Mexico. North Baja Desert Bighorn (cremnobates) in the northern part of the Baja Peninsula and the South Baja Desert Bighorn (weemsi) in the southern half of the Baja Peninsula.

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