Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bighorn Sheep - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Bighorn Sheep" Colored Pencil

Mountain thunder cracks across the crisp, blue, November sky. The echoes from the violent clash between massive combatants desperate to prove their dominance can be heard for miles around. The battle may last for twenty-four hours but the exhausted victor earns exclusive mating rights. The weapons of choice are the impressive, coiled horns that are the distinguishing feature of Colorado's state symbol, the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep are ultimate gladiators built to live in the steep ridges and rugged canyons of the mountains. This fragile species must carefully navigate the precipice of extinction as they are extremely sensitive to artificial disturbances in the natural environment. I know it's a familiar story but the numbers are staggering. Before 1800, two million bighorn sheep populated North America. By 1900, after the Western Expansion, only a few thousand remained. Hunting, loss of habitat and disease spread by introduced livestock decimated their numbers.

In 1936 the Arizona Boy Scouts mounted a sympathetic campaign to save the bighorn sheep. A "Save the Bighorns" art contest started in schools throughout the state garnered national attention. Once made aware of the dire situation, other powerful wildlife organizations joined the effort. Intense conservation methods such as reintroduction into areas the sheep had previously gone extinct along with protection from National Parks and a decrease in direct competition with domestic sheep have proved to be successful. In areas where the bighorn are allowed to roam unimpeded by man-made obstacles the animals are thriving once again.

Bighorn sheep were among the most admired animals of Native Americans. The Apsaalooka (Crow) people have a legend that expresses such respect.

An elder possessed by evil spirits attempts to kill his heir by pushing him over a cliff, but the victim is saved by getting caught in trees. Rescued by bighorn sheep, the man takes the name of their leader, Big Metal. The other sheep grant him power, wisdom, sharp eyes, sure-footedness, keen ears, great strength, and a strong heart. Big Metal returns to his tribe with the message that the Apsaalooka people will survive only so long as the river winding out of the mountains is known as the Bighorn River.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting article Dan - we have similar looking sheep called Aoudads at our zoo in Providence. Are they considered the same as Bighorn sheep do you know, or just a relative?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your Aoudads are known as Barbary Sheep. They are a rare species from North Africa. They have been introduced into the SW United States but I've never seen one in the wild. They're smaller than Bighorn Sheep but they're kind of pretty little creatures.

      Delete
  2. Impressive colored pencil rendering. Sounds like a conservation success story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Courtney, one of my favorites although I don't see them very much. I think the Bighorn Sheep are very successful here in Colorado.

      Delete