By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Named for their large and majestic horns that can weigh up to 30 pounds. Beautiful bighorn sheep are a sight one may get to see when heading up Highway 93/95 south of Radium, Highway 93 South east of Radium, and on Highway 95 going north to Golden all located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa People and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples.
Once boasting a population of 250 in the valley, the animal’s numbers have been rapidly declining, with now fewer than 120 left of the species that roam just outside of Radium. Accumulating deaths of bighorn on the highway over the years have raised more than concerns, but also awareness and pledges. There have been local initiatives, such as the Save the Sheep Campaign and the Slow Your Roll, Save The Sheep driver awareness campaign, which conducts sheep patrol and spearheads a community-driven fundraising effort that targets raising 10 per cent of the construction cost of a wildlife highway overpass, with its main intention being to keep both people and animals safer.
It was nearly 750,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene era, that wild sheep crossed from Asia to North America over the Beringia land bridge, which led to adaptation and evolving throughout different areas. There are now three sub-species of the animal: Desert, Sierra Nevada, and the beloved Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, which can be seen from British Columbia to Arizona
Have ewe herd?
Known as grazers, a group of bighorn sheep is referred to as a herd, with a diet made up of grasses and shrubs. These sheep can be many shades, ranging from light to a greyish- or chocolate- brown. Known as rams, the males can be 41 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh up to 315 pounds in general, but the Rocky Mountain bighorns have been known to exceed 500 pounds. Females, or ewes, come in a little smaller, at up to 35 inches tall and weighing up to 201 pounds.
This is explained by the fact females will forage and be on the go while protecting their lambs, whereas males will take the time to rest, which is better for digestion and overall size.
Unlike deer, female bighorns also have horns, but they are smaller and slightly less curved. Home is where the horns are and bighorns’ favourite places to inhabit include meadows, grassy mountain slopes, rocky cliffs and bluffs. Their main predators are black bears, grizzly bears, wolves and mountain lions.
One false myth about bighorn or any kind of sheep is that they are stupid. Regarded as quite intelligent, all sheep are known to have an excellent memory and ability to learn. A few other fun facts about sheep are that there are more than 1,000 different breeds and that newborns can walk almost immediately. All sheep are known for bonding well with others and can remember their pals for up to two years. Sheep represent many things in different religions and cultures. For many Indigenous people and cultures, bighorn sheep are one of the first animals they associate with the high mountains and are considered sacred. They were also a source of food for many. Also associated with vast sky, bighorn sheep have often been thought of as guardian spirits.