Desert Bighorn 101 - Lecture 1 - Origins
The reason for this series of articles is to give readers the tools and concepts to increase their knowledge of Bighorn Sheep and the value of their own personal experiences in the desert when they're in Bighorn habitat or have the good fortune to actually see some of these magnificent animals.
For people who know something about how difficult things are for life in the desert the very existence of these animals is a source of wonderment.
How they got here is also an amazing story that is not widely known and a topic that few scientists have pursued.
We can start with the big picture of Bighorn Sheep. This is something often referred to as the great arc of the wild sheep. It starts in Europe in the Pyrenees mountains. It goes through southern Europe to the Holy land and across southern Asia, then through China. It then goes up to the Bearing Sea and across the Bearing strait, down through Alaska, through Canada, the Uninted States and ends up in Mexico.
While the exact time that Bighorn sheep crossed over from the old world into the new is not known, most experts would put it between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. This coincides with the majority of human culture in the New World. As we follow this arc from Europe to the Bering Sea there is quite a number of species and subspecies of wild sheep. We find this in the New World as well.
In recent years, what is a species and a subspecies has been challenged and redefined by DNA technology. Many experts conclude that there are four main species of Bighorn Sheep in North America. Starting in Alaska is the Dahl Sheep. Through the Canadian Rockies we find the Stone Sheep
In the United States we find the Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep. In the desert southwest, we find the Desert Bighorn sheep. These are the four distinct species that most people know in America.