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July 1934Volume 9, Number 4


By Park Naturalist Edwin D. McKee

Wild life conservation in the National Parks has within recent years gradually developed by necessity into the more scientific field of game management. No longer is it enough to simply protect animals from hunting, to feed them during times of stress or to supply them with salt or water. Today, largely because of the encroachments of civilization and also because of the artificial boundaries of these wild life preserves, it has become necessary to study, to experiment with and to systematically deal with each and every problem that arises.

In dealing intelligently with any particular species of animal in a given area, one necessity is a knowledge of that animal's approximate abundance or scarcity. Game counts, therefore, constitute a fundamental step in game management. These are made in numerous ways - 1, by attempting to actually count all individuals, dividing a large area into subareas and assigning the count in each to a person who knows the region - 2, by selecting a small but typical section of the entire range, making a complete count in it and multiplying this by a figure which will give the average for the range - 3, by estimating from the amount of browsing and grazing that has been done over the entire range or from the tracks and trails to be found. In the Yellowstone still another type of count has been experimented with (1). There, aerial photographs are made of species which normally congregate in the open at certain seasons and from these photographs accurate counts are made. While each of the methods described above is practical under certain conditions and has definite advantages, it is obvious in every case that complete accuracy can not be obtained.

(1) Baggley, G. F., "Yellowstone Game Census" Vol. IX, Nos. 1, 2, 3, Jan., Feb., March 1932

One interesting native animal of the Grand Canyon whose numbers can not be counted or estimated with even a fair degree of accuracy is the Desert or Nelson Bighorn Mountain Sheep, Ovis canadensis nelsoni. This animal which is known to range through many parts of Grand Canyon yet is seldom seen, has such a peculiar nature that it has never been possible by ordinary methods to make estimates of its abundance worth recording. It is for this reason that the writer has attempted to gather together from sources considered reliable all records of Bighorns seen in Grand Canyon during the past five years. Only sight records have been included since on rocky surfaces as in the Grand Canyon, the toes of deer tend to spread so in most instances their tracks are indistinguishable from those of sheep. Five years has been arbitrarily selected as the limiting time since it is felt that this period is sufficiently long to give a fair average yet it is not too long for trusting an individual's memory in the type of data here recorded.

The Havasupai Indians living in the western part of Grand Canyon have long been acquainted with the sheep and its habits and in times past used it for food. Spier (2) states that one instance was recorded of a wounded ram charging his pursuer and hurling him from a narrow ledge. In contrast to this he tells how another Indian stood at the door of his house and shot a sheep which was only a few hundred feet away. Several Havasupais have informed the writer that sheep not infrequently today descend the canyon close to their village, although, according to Flyn Watahomigie, these sheep are no longer disturbed.

(2) Spier, Leslie, "Havasupai Ethnography," Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XXIX Part III, 1923 pp. 108

In the days of the bow and arrow, the Havasupai Indians (3) used to stalk mountain sheep in Grand Canyon using as a headpiece the stuffed headskin of an ewe with horns of stuffed buckskin added. They would paint their bodies to resemble the animal and by mimicking its actions, approach within ten or fifteen meters before letting fly the arrow. Also they formerly used 'drives' forcing the animals into an ambush or even directly off cliffs. Not only did they use the sheep for its meat but also they made ladles and arrow wrenches from its horns.

(3) Idem, pp. 110, 111

Mount Sheep Horn Ladles after Spier

Probably the earliest record of the Desert Bighorn in Grand Canyon is to be found in the biological report on the region made by Dr. C. Hart Merriam (4) in 1890. In this he states, "Sheep are common at the Grand Canon, where I surprised a small herd Sept. 14" and again, "we saw fresh signs nearly every day, and started a small herd opposite Point Sublime."

(4) Merriam, C. Hart, "Results of a Biological Survey of the San Francisco Mountain Region and Desert of the Little Colorado, Arizona," North American Fauna No. 3, U. S. Department of Agriculture, 1890, pp. 38, 79

By compiling the principal mountain sheep records of Grand Canyon for the past five years many interesting and significant facts concerning the status of this animal have been made apparent. In drawing any conclusion from these data, however, caution must be used since lack of records from certain areas may be due to the inaccessibility to man of those areas, while, on the other hand, numerous reports from other areas may be accounted for by the great number of people that frequent certain localities or by the fact that the same sheep are seen on many occasions. Nevertheless, certain generalizations appear to be beyond reasonable doubt so these are here presented.

Ewe - For several years occasionally observed from the Bright Angel
Trail. Ensor Photo

Mountain sheep are of general and not uncommon distribution along the entire Grand Canyon south of the Colorado River. They are most numerous above the Redwall and below the rim. It is not unusual to find them either on the rim or on the Tonto Platform but they rarely go back from the Canyon's edge or down into the Inner Gorge. One of the strangest localities in which a Bighorn has been found is among the Yellow Pines near the main road south of Grand View Point. There, in the fall of 1931, Mr. Chick Sevey found himself within fifty feet of a ram.

North of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon not a single authentic sight record of a mountain sheep east of Kanab Canyon has come to the writer's attention. Several people have reported seeing 'sheep' tracks in this area but for reasons already stated these are not considered as good evidence. Ranger R. E. Laws who built the Thunder River trail and has traveled the North Rim area extensively knows of no sheep records from that section. In Kanab Canyon, however, and farther west in Toroweap (Grand Canyon Nat'l Monument) sheep are reported (5) as fairly numerous.

(5) Thompson, Ben H., "Toroweap - The New Grand Canyon National Monument" G.C. Nature Notes Vol. 8, No. 4, July 1933, pp. 167.

Judging from observations made along several of the trails leading into Grand Canyon from the South Rim, mountain sheep stay in a rather restricted area for long periods, ranging about locally in small bands or singly (possibly varying with the season). In brief, it is believed that the large band or bands seen so often around Hermit Basin and below remain in this immediate area from year to year - probably because of the abundance of springs in this vicinity. On the other hand, a smaller and distinct group of sheep stay near the Bright Angel trail and one ewe which can be recognized absolutely and which is very tame has been seen in that area many times during the past few years.

In conclusion, the writer presents a tabular summary of the records of the Desert Bighorn in Grand Canyon and also, for the convenience of persons interested in the local status of this species, a bibliography of published records of it in Grand Canyon Nature Notes. While several conclusions are offered in this paper, it is felt unwise to offer any estimates on the number of sheep in Grand Canyon on the strength of these data.


Mountain Sheep visit Studio
     G. E. Sturdevant, Vol. 1, No. 12, May 1927
Mountain Sheep observed on Canyon Rim,
     G. E. Sturdevant, Vol. 2, No. 7, Dec. 1927
Mountain Sheep leads way up trail,
     G. E. Sturdevant, Vol. 2, No. 10, March 1928
Mountain Sheep comes up Bright Angle Trail,
     G. E. Sturdevant, Vol. 3, No. 1, June 1928
Note on the Desert Bighorn,
     E. D. McKee, Vol. 3, No. 11, July 1927
Note (Record open to question)
     S. B. Jones, Vol. 4, No. 1, Sept. 1927
Mountain Sheep,
     R. A. Redburn, Vol. 7, No. 9, Dec. 1932
Toroweap - The Grand Canyon National Monument,
     B. H. Thompson, Vol. 8, No. 4, July 1933
Note on occurrence,
     Paul Kraus, Vol. 8, No. 8, Nov. 1933


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