photo credit: Amy Anderson

John Mionczynski on 6 Things You Never Knew About Bighorn Sheep

Living in a cabin made for $72 in 1970, John Mionczynski is the true definition of a naturalist. With a background in Biology, he can tell you just about anything you want to know about the plant life that grows in Wyoming. Considered an expert by many, he spends his time educating others about natural remedies and the benefits of using local plant life as a main food source.

In addition to his vast knowledge about plant life, Mionczynski is well noted for his studies of Bighorn sheep. Working alongside other biologists, Mionczynski has studied bighorn sheep with the U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the University of Wyoming for more than 40 years.

Near Atlantic City in Northwest Wyoming where Mionczynski resides, you’ll find one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep- the Whiskey Mountain herd.

Inspired by the herd, A National Bighorn Sheep Center, was opened to the public in July of 1993 in Dubois and hosts seasonal hours year-round. The center features dioramas and mounts that recreate the natural habitat of bighorn sheep.

Photo credit from left to right: Stephen Jay Lunsford, Torrey Valley, and Collin Anderson

 

Before you go, here are 6 things you never knew about bighorn sheep:

  1. Wyoming’s Whiskey Mountain bighorn sheep herd is the largest wintering  herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep in the lower 48 states.
  2. Equipped with split hooves with rough bottoms that aid in balance and natural grip, their short legs are perfect for bounding. Mionczynski has seen them jump large distances and navigate impossibly narrow ledges. These attributes, along with keen vision, help them move easily about rocky, rugged mountain terrain (avoiding predators along the way)
  3. Bighorn sheep thrive in harsh environments and high altitudes. In fact, they live in some of the most rugged climates in North America. While they typically like to hang out above 10,000 feet, visitors have the best chance of seeing Bighorn Sheep during their “rut” season in mid-November and December when they move into their winter range at lower elevations.
  4. One of  the most recognizable features of a Bighorn sheep is the ram’s (males) large horns (which, can weigh up to 30 pounds). Surprisingly enough, there are two parts to the horn– a sheath overlying a bony core filled with blood vessels. This helps the sheep to regulate their body temperatures as the climate changes.
  5. Bighorn sheep live in social groups, but  rams and ewes (females) typically meet only to mate. Rams live in bachelor groups and females live in herds with other females and their young. For the females, Mionczynski has studied very specific responsibilities within the herd such as the babysitter (watches young while mothers eat), guardian (typically a sheep without a lamb who watches for predators), and the herd leader.
  6. As hearty as bighorn sheep may be, they are incredibly susceptible to the spread of disease, especially from domestic sheep. Visitors can learn more, and support conservation efforts through the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center.

Self-Guided Wildlife Tour- The Bighorn Sheep Center recommends bringing binoculars along on this tour which starts about 4.5 Miles East of the Center. View the complete route here from the National Bighorn Sheep Center.

Guided Tour- The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center conducts tours November through March at a cost by reservation. You’ll get an up close and personal look at these wonderful animals- binoculars are provided.

(Photo credit Bill Sincavage)