Bighorn in Teton Mountains are isolated and struggle yet don’t use all of the prime habitat

Teton bighorn herd is really two isolated populations and fail to expand into good habitat available-

For a long time the bighorn in the famed Teton Mountains have more or less hung on.  Most stories about them tend toward pessimism. Now Jackson Hole News and Guide reporter Cory Hatch reports research by three agencies that gives some new information.

The “herd,” if that is the proper name, is in fact split into a northern and a southern group. There is little to no interbreeding between them — this despite a lack of geographic barriers to intermingling.  Neither group has bred with the bighorn that come down to winter on the National Elk Refuge for a long time. Their genetic diversity is low. Nevertheless, some good and accessible, but unused habitat exists for them. They don’t seem to have discovered it. This is especially true for the southern group of bighorn, which could expand southward.

The herd, now at about 150, might find these areas of good habitat. The study found possible evidence that the sheep are now using some previously abandoned range. Bighorn are relatively conservative in expanding there range, especially with these bighorn.

Here is Hatch’s story on the recent research. Teton bighorn sheep move to new range. Other high-quality habitat, however, isn’t being used, researchers say. By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole News and Guide.






  1. jdubya Avatar

    Why not move some genetically diverse bighorns in the under-utilized range and let them intermingle between the two herds?

  2. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Bighorns are salt lovers. They could be easily moved by placing a block of white salt near them and after letting them get used to licking it, move it a half mile or so at a time so they could still see it from the last location they used it. Over the course of one summer, the Bighorns could be moved several miles into unused areas.
    Back in the days before radio collars, Sheep Biologist Valerius Geist would let Bighorns lick a small hand-held piece of salt while he read the numbers on their ear tags.

  3. Jeff Avatar

    Sheep are one of the most sensitive species to manage. I would be nervous to see sheep imported as disease is too likely and I’d hate to see the herd die out.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      I’ve heard more than one biologist lament about how sensitive they are.

      They are such iconic animals. It sucks to see them struggling.

  4. Robert R Avatar
    Robert R

    I would be curious as to what the golden eagle population is because they can take a toll on the lambs.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      I helped Jim Morgan climb into an occupied Golden Eagle nest (He stood on my hands for the last few feet up the cliff into the nest)right in the middle of a Bighorn lambing area in Morgan Creek north of Challis. We found the remains of one Bighorn Lamb and two Mule Deer fawns. The bulk of the prey remains were skulls of Yellow Bellied Marmots.
      From the evidence in that nest, I doubt that Golden Eagles are a limiting factor in Bighorn survival. There were Bighorn ewes and lambs available every day for the eagles to attack if they were so inclined.

  5. Robert R Avatar
    Robert R

    I don’t think the bighorn is there primary prey, but they take a small percentage of the lambs.
    A golden eagle can take a good sized animal, especially by knocking them off a cliff. The Mongolians use the golden eagle for hunting wolves.

  6. bigsky777 Avatar

    Hunting wolves…c’mon. Fox maybe.
    If there’s a predation issue it is probably lions. There’s no indication in the article that predation is thought to be keeping bighorns from colonizing the habitat. Just takes time and enough bighorn numbers that they start pushing out and expanding their range. Or the habitat isn’t as good as they think.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Actually Bigsky777, if you google (or go to Youtube) and enter Mongolia eagles, hunting wolves you will bring up a video of Mongolians hunting wolves with eagles, very similar to our golden eagles. The wolves do not appear to be as large as those “big, bad, imported Canadian wolves” we have out here in the Rockies 🙂


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox