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Desert Bighorn Sheep

Galen Rowell/Mountain Light Photography

Standing like a sentinel in the high deserts of the West, desert bighorn sheep are an impressive sight to behold. True to their name, the horns of adult males can weigh up to 30 pounds! Desert bighorn have adapted to life in the desert in many ways, from using their horns to break up cactus for food to being able to go for weeks or months without visiting a water hole. In fact, these sheep are so hardy, they can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight and still survive! Once found throughout the arid West, desert bighorn populations declined drastically with the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.

Climate Change Impacts

Although desert bighorn sheep can go for long periods of time without water, a much warmer and drier climate may be beyond what these hardy animals can tolerate. Rainfall is projected to decrease in the western deserts as result of climate change, which could lead to more population extinctions from lack of freshwater springs and edible vegetation.