Thursday, 27 April 2017 18:15

The Big Horn Sheep of the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains

Written by Jeff Shotwell
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No visit to Palm Springs is complete without stopping to explore and enjoy the beauty of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.  These picturesque desert mountains are home to a unique assortment of plant and animal life--some species found nowhere else.  The Peninsular bighorn sheep are among the most iconic species to call these mountains home.  These sheep are a vital part of the desert ecology; their sparse numbers make a sighting a rare and amazing privilege.

Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Although the habitat for the bighorn sheep ranges from the Baja Mexican Peninsula, they are well-known for their place in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.  This beautiful park is home to a variety of isolated and scenic nature trails.  Because of the isolation, visitors enjoy rare and intimate experiences with nature and local ecology. 

Day hikes on the Cactus Springs, Pacific Crest Trail, or others offer rare opportunities to view the bighorn sheep grazing in their natural habitats.  These sheep enjoy higher elevation and steep winding trails.  They are master mountain climbers.  Park visitors with good binoculars enjoy spying on these sheep as they graze on sheer cliffsides and mountain shelves.  

Endangerment Risk

Unfortunately, the Peninsular Bighorn sheep are official members of the Federal Endangered Species list.  Habitat risks such as suburbanization and land development have eroded the natural habitat, leading to fewer natural sanctuaries and grazing lands.  Other risk factors include car accidents, poisonous plant life, and drownings reduced the lamb population.  By the 1980's their endangerment peaked and herd mortality was at an all-time high.  

The Come Back Trail

Despite the sheep's poor chances, the timely intervention of local organizations such as the Bighorn Institute led to vital conservation and re-population efforts.  Founded in 1982, this nonprofit group headed up captive breeding programs to help boost sheep numbers.  They also led research and public awareness programs to help reduce the number of human-caused deaths and risks.  

Although the bighorn sheep is still on the endangered species list, these sheep are amazingly resilient and their numbers are slowly growing.  Over the past 34 years, approximately 126 new sheep have been released into the wild from captive breeding programs. These boosted numbers greatly increase the wild herds' chances of survival and growth.  

Take time to visit the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.  In addition to the other beautiful plant and animal life on the trails, you just might catch a glimpse of the miraculous big horn sheep. In addition to your visit, consider joining the effort to protect these amazing animals.  The Bighorn Institute offers financial membership and their "Adopt a Bighorn" program.  By learning to appreciate these animals and joining the effort to help, the bighorn sheep will keep their home in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. 


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Read 708 times Last modified on Tuesday, 29 August 2017 23:00

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