|"Bighorn Sheep Winter" Colored Pencil|
The battles 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 bighorn sheep.
They are the ultimate gladiators built to live along steep ridges and in rugged canyons. This fragile species must also carefully navigate the precipice of extinction as the sheep are extremely sensitive to artificial disturbances in their natural environment.
It's a familiar story but the numbers are staggering - before 1800, two million bighorn sheep populated North America. By the year 1900, only a few thousand remained as hunting, loss of habitat and disease spread by introduced livestock decimated their numbers.
In 1936 the Arizona Boy Scouts mounted a sympathetic campaign to rescue the bighorn sheep. A "Save the Bighorns" art contest launched in schools throughout the state garnered national attention. Once made aware of the dire situation, other wildlife organizations joined the effort.
Intense conservation methods such as reintroduction into their former homelands, a decrease in direct competition with domestic sheep and protection from National Parks have all been successful. In areas where the bighorn sheep are allowed to roam unimpeded by man-made obstacles, the animals are thriving once again.