The Desert Bighorn was adopted as the Nevada State Animal in 1973.
There are three species of "bighorn sheep," but only one that lives in Nevada -- the Desert Bighorn, an animal well adapted to life in the state's harsh climate. Unlike most mammals, the Desert Bighorn Sheep's body temperature can safely fluctuate several degrees, a perfect adaptation to the desert's drop between highs and lows. During the heat of the day, bighorns often rest in the shade of trees and caves and retreat to lower elevations during the winter.
These animals range in color from gray to light brown or dark, chocolate brown and their white rumps are characteristic of the Bighorn. Males typically weigh between 120 and 320 lbs. while females top out at 190 lbs. Of course, with a name like "Bighorn," it's that impressive rack that comes to mind. A pair of them actually. Males (rams) are crowned with a stately pair of large, curved horns. Females (ewes) also have horns, but they are far shorter and have much less curvature. The large horns of the male represent an ideal adaptation that serves to protect the brain by absorbing the impact of clashes, often done during mating rituals or defending territory. The social structure of these animals are quite complex, similar to a community, or collective, with one ram primarily overseeing a herd of no more than ten ewes and juveniles. Generally, one given ram is responsible for his herd for an entire lifetime and rarely do younger rams challenge the oldest alpha. If the alpha ram is injured, killed, or dies naturally, two younger rams step in to take over the herd.
The elusive Bighorn is a fine representative of our state and here in Nevada, seeing your state animal is truly a privilege and a stroke of luck. Bighorns are apt in avoiding humans and any form of human habitation (roads, trails, ranches etc.) due to their extremely shy and intelligent nature. These widely enigmatic herbivores focus their herds in the backcountry of mountain ranges preferring rocky ledges, loose scree, talus slopes, or tablelands. It's here people usually catch glimpse of them from a distance atop a rocky ledge, or even in the backcountry at ground level.
In 2004, Bighorn populations were low enough that they were placed on the list as a threatened species. Populations dwindled due to diseases brought in with the introduction of domestic sheep. Fast forward to 2010, Nevada's bighorns have been on the rebound with an estimated 4,000 animals statewide and growing an estimated 50-60 animals each year. The Nevada Department of Wildlife allows very strict hunting for these animals, handing out no more than 30 tags per year. A year-long waiting list and steep fee is required to obtain a Bighorn hunting tag.