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Fauna Series No. 6








Life History





Fauna of the National Parks — No. 6
The Bighorn of Death Valley
National Park Service Arrowhead




Rutting Period

The rutting period per se begins slowly in late June, increases in intensity rather sharply through July, maintains a fairly high level through September and October, and gradually declines through November to subsidence sometime in December. Our latest record of copulation is December 23, although sporadic activity has been recorded in January, February, and March.

The beginning of the season is signaled by the breaking up of the winter ram bands and the appearance of single rams along the trails, near the springs, or traveling temporarily with the ewes themselves.

While several rams may be observed together in an area during the rut, we have no record of two or more teaming up for the season as has been suggested by others.

Feeding Behavior

Feeding behavior appears to be substantially modified during the peak of mating activity. The older rams were observed to eat very little, yet, despite the increased expenditure of energy, they reached the end of the season in excellent condition. The younger rams (up to 3 or 4 years) ate more than the mature rams yet responded to the rigors of the season by some loss of weight and general signs of fatigue.

Distance Traveled

The distance traveled during the rut has not been determined, but two positively identified rams, Tight Curl and Rambunctious, were first observed near Travertine Point in Furnace Creek Wash in the spring and autumn of 1956; in upper Echo Canyon in January and February 1957; and at Nevares Spring in August 1957. This represents an airline distance of 12 miles, and both rams were headed north from Nevares toward Indian Pass 7 airline miles farther.

Attention to Females

Attention to females appears to vary in detail with the individual but some general behavior can be summarized:

Mature rams seem to show no persistent interest in ewes either before oestrus or after, only during.

Young rams from a few weeks up to 3 or 4 years of age tend to harass ewes to some extent whenever they come in contact with them. Copulation sometimes occurs under these circumstances, which may contribute to the length of the Death Valley lambing season. During this period the young rams usually defer to the older rams without contesting the field in any way.

Rams have several approaches to ewes during the rut, but some are more common than others. Probably the one most generally used was first recorded at Nevares, August 15, 1957. Our field notes read:

12:45. When I arrived from Navel Spring, Buddy had had a ewe and lamb "staked out" in the shade of a cut bank about 300 yards up Nevares Wash since 11 o'clock.

She's old, or sick, maybe both, Buddy says. And skinny—I can see her head from here where she rests in the shade. Reminds me of Old Mama. Buddy says she isn't sure it isn't Old Mama. I haven't seen the lamb yet.

1:00. The old ewe has come out in the sun, and it is not Old Mama. This is a typical Nevares type ewe. Large body, long neck, and high horns. She is lame, and old, I don't know about sick. The lamb has come out. About 5 or 6 weeks old, fuzzy, no horns, brownish and not gray like its mother. It has gone back into the shade. It definitely is not ready to travel. Its ears are held at an odd angle which should help in future identification. Mother goes hack in shade and lies down.

1:30. Buddy left to see about supplies at headquarters.

2:00. I have been glassing the entire area ever since Buddy left—and again a sheep is standing at Old Spring! Out of nowhere, just standing there, already having drunk his fill, a huge ram, looking very much like the one at Navel yesterday. I thought at first it may be the same one. Then I realized this one is darker, and his horns hang lower on his head, He has gone down to the big boulder across the grass and vegetation below Round Pool and is pawing a bed. He's down, but not enough in the shade, I'd think.

2:10. He's up and heading this way. I have set up both movie cameras and the still camera with the 500-mm. lens, all under damp cloths to keep them cool.

He's moving steadily across the spring area with a most purposeful manner. If he keeps coming, or going, he will find the ewe and lamb. He acts as though he already knows they are there.

I got some good movie footage and slides as he crossed toward the cut bank where the ewe is still lying. I think I got a good shot as he saw her in the shade, broke into a fast trot, and rushed her to her feet, rose in the air and disappeared behind the bank as he tried to mount her, with no preliminaries whatever.

I don't know whether a new lamb is on its way just yet or not, but by this ram's manner he intends to see that one is if it isn't already.

They are back in sight now, and I am reminded of Fred Jones' account of rams knocking each other's testicles with their front feet. The ram is knocking at her flank in the same manner.

He is now standing behind her, and with steady persistence nips at her flank. She turns her head with a slight toss every time he does this—and eventually it assumes the characteristics of a dance.

The lamb is lying in sight, flicking its ears and ignoring the whole thing.

The ram tries again to mount and the ewe slides out into the sun, where she soon begins to feed again. The ram watches her for a moment from the shade, then paws out a bed and lies down. The ewe feeds for 10 minutes, returns to the shade, and all three are lying down. It is 2:30. Temperature, 110°.

I have watched for half an hour for fear I'll miss something. All I've seen is half an hour of cud-chewing.

3:00. They have repeated the business of the ram getting up, rousing the ewe, trying to mount, she moving away, the head-bobbing deal, now and then the strike with the rigid foreleg by the ram. Eventually she is out in the open again, feeding. The lamb changes position and lies down again. The ram follows the ewe into the sun, but only for a moment.

4:00. All are lying in the shade again.

4:30. Nothing has happened except I've just got eyestrain from watching.

4:40. The ram is out in the open after the ewe and she is running with a remarkable display of energy and agility for one who seemed so old and decrepit an hour ago. I don't see the lamb. The ewe stops now and then and seems to be remembering that she already has one child, and where is it? But the ram keeps pressing her, shoving into her flank, nipping at her flank and striking. She runs in a circle and seems to be trying to see her lamb. She slides out from under the ram and heads for the mountains—without her lamb.

4:50. She and the ram have dropped out of sight in Nevares Wash and I am trying to find the lamb. Here it is, just out of the shade where it has been resting all afternoon, looking around for its mother, who is still out of sight.

4:55. The ram and ewe are gone. The lamb is running across from Nevares Wash toward the second canyon to the north and goes out of sight alone, one canyon too soon!

5:00. At the site of the 4 hours of bedding and mating activity I can find two beds, two pellet groups, both adult; no sign of the lamb at all, two urine spots. This in 4 hours. Temperature, 115°.

More spectacular but somewhat less common is the exhausting and ritualistic "herding" sometimes engaged in by a ram and a ewe for several days before culmination. This was first observed at Nevares Spring on August 17, 1957, and again on the 18th.

We were still not certain what part this "herding" played in the mating pattern when on December 2, 1957, we got a report of two rams "playing" on a fan 5 miles below Badwater. Our notes of December 3 read as follows:

7:50 a.m. Spotted two bighorn running toward mountains through desertholly sheep-head high. Glasses showed not two rams but one young ram (1-1/2 to 2 years old) and, of all things, none other than our old friend from the Badwater band of December 1954, old Droopy herself! Spooky as ever and looking not a day older.

They ran to about a quarter of a mile from the highway and then stopped and watched me for awhile; then they began to feed on last year's annuals.

8:30. They have fed half way back to the road and are standing watching me. I have taken some record shots in this poor light.

8:35. They have both bedded about 100 yards from the road, and this seems like a good time to change film but there is still some to run.

9:00. The sun has reached them. I'll finish the two rolls nearly done and change film while they are still in siesta.

This young ram [Paleface] is "herding" Droopy. That is the "playing" reported last night. I got about 5 feet of one of their less vigorous efforts.

9:15. They have disappeared. While I was changing film I heard rocks flying, and over my shoulder I saw the most exciting "run" and "herding" display yet! Lee Shackleton is here watching now. He said that they were over half a mile north of here when he saw them last night. He was much surprised to learn that Droopy was not a ram.

They are "running" again, but too far away and in shadow.

9:50. The young ram has "herded" Droopy into a small ravine. After standing about her for awhile he is now lying down.

9:55. She is lying down.

10:00. The sun has reached his bed but not hers. If they were both in good light it would make a perfect illustration of the "herding" idea—the ram always trying to stay above the ewe or between her and wherever she wants to go. Or seems to want to go, because we have noticed before (and here this morning) that the ewe will often outrun the ram, then seem to wait for him to regain his position. Perhaps this is a ritualistic sort of thing, as most of the rams' fighting seems to be. Last summer when Knocker was herding Longhorn in 116° in the shade, we thought she stopped to rest, perhaps. But today is so cool, 60° at 10:15, that certainly the weather can be discounted. It begins to look like Droopy could get away if she wanted to!

10:20. The ram has stretched out his head and is resting and sleeping with the weight of his head on his muzzle and right horntip. This could certainly contribute to brooming of the horntips.

10:30. He is up, stretching, urinating. Now he is going down to Droopy. He strikes at her with front feet. Droopy leaps up and without further ado is off full tilt to the north with His Orneriness hotfooting it after her.

10:36. They are now feeding in a draw on some plant I can't see from here.

10:55. He began "herding" her and has been at it until just now at 11:30. I would estimate they have completed about a 2-mile "run."

11:50. Droopy made a run for shade but didn't make it; so, at 11:55, she lay down in the wash.

12:10. They are both lying down, both in full sun.

12:25. Now they are up and feeding. Droopy got up first, probably because I walked out of her sight and she had to get up so she could see where I was going and what I was up to. This happens quite often—often enough, in fact, that we realized long ago that it is better to stay in sight at all times if you want continual observations. Sheep get uneasy if you get out of sight for a moment, and sometimes we have found them gone when we reappear, perhaps running in a sudden panic generated by simple uneasiness in the beginning. Then one of them kicks a rock or sneezes and away they go.

1:15. They have been out of the wash on the first terrace at the foot of the mountain for some time.

After some good "runs" on terrace, they have been out of sight in ravine since 2:50.

3:20. I finally decided that they might have gone up the ravine and I had better move up with the jeep truck and equipment until I can see directly into the ravine. So I packed up all the cameras, slammed the truck doors, started the engine, and looked up to find them standing on the ridge again, come up to see what the noise was all about. This is the fourth time this has happened today. Their hearing must be o.k.

3:35. Sun has gone down behind the Panamints. Ewe and ram are feeding quietly in the wash 200 yards away. Now he's after her again.

3:50. The sun is still showing on Daylight Pass. Temperature, 67°.

4:05. The moon is up. This "herding" business has taken a new slant. I am quite sure that it is a game of some sort or ritual. In any case, it is voluntary on both sides. Again and again Droopy has been in a position to elude Paleface and really get away, but she never takes advantage of the opportunity. Instead, she has, once or twice, not only waited for him to catch up but retraced her steps until he saw her again.

He has now "forced" her all the way down the fan over half a mile to the highway by a series of short jabbing runs at her, which are not designed to reach her but to frighten her only—like running at someone and stamping your foot and shouting "boo." As a matter of fact, he sometimes gives the equivalent of a "boo" in a sort of snort. He drops his head low to the ground, nose out, ears back, takes one or two very slow crouching steps, then a sudden lunge toward her, but never to her. She obediently dashes away a short distance.

Now, since sundown, he has pushed her thus to the edge of the highway and out on it, while he himself patrols the berm, and will not let her off the pavement!

4:20. He suddenly seemed to say "that's enough of that," turned, and, head down and out, began to walk rapidly away toward the mountains. Droopy immediately picked up her cue and followed at a trot.

Now he starts something new. He pretends not to see her, but if she starts to go by him on the right side he quickens his pace and gets directly in front of her. She tried the left side with the same results; so from right to left and back four or five times; then suddenly he whirls and lunges at her. She whirls away for a few feet and stops. He stands, head down, glaring at her for a moment turns his back, and away he briskly goes, she after him, and the whole process is gone through again.

As they near the ledge at the foot of the mountain they burst into breakneck speed and round and round they go. Who started it, or who is "chasing" who, is not really apparent. This finally breaks up when he leaves the chase and leaps up to the top of a 10-foot ledge and stands, head low, looking down at her. Here again her voluntary participation becomes apparent, because she now deliberately places herself directly below him, and the maneuvering begins: She to ascend the ledge, he to block her.

The last I could see of her she was lying down, placidly chewing her cud. He was still standing 10 feet above her on the loose ledge looking down at her. Suddenly the ledge began to crumble under him, and she got up and moved from under the falling rocks. He, however, was completely unperturbed, just spread all four feet out a little and rode down the small landslide until it stopped; whereupon, he simply relaxed where he stood. She lay down again a few feet away and I left them there chewing their cods in the moonlight.

On the next and third day of activity, their behavior followed the same pattern as the day before, but with minor differences:

When the ewe approaches the ram and he her, face to face, she will start to run to the right past him but he heads her off, turning in always and intercepting her attempt to pass him on the left, back and forth with incredible agility and stamina.

As it grew darker, he reverted to the "leading cut"—going away from her but never letting her go past him or off in a direction of her own choosing.

It began to appear that he either knew where Droopy wanted to go or he was "leading" her and she deliberately following, because he would turn suddenly and walk briskly into a ravine or up on a ledge at right angles to their general direction of travel. She invariably followed.

At one point we thought that they had bedded down, and we were preparing to leave when a change took place. It was so dark we could scarcely see them with the binoculars, but Droopy suddenly took the lead and at a breakneck speed struck off across the nearly perpendicular face of the mountain to the north, with the ram about 10 yards behind her. Showers of falling gravel and boulders followed them both. Long after we could no longer see them, we could follow their progress northward by the sound of the rolling rocks and small landslides they loosed in passing.

By 5 o'clock the sounds were dwindling to a point where it appeared that even they were being slowed down, if not stopped, by darkness, and finally no sounds at all. The moon rose and we came home.

Finally on Nevares Peak on September 15, 1958, we got a definite indication of the objective of this unique behavior.

A mature ram known to us as Black-and-Tan persisted in his "herding" of the ewe, Brokeoff, until it netted him a completed copulation.

Their physical satisfaction from copulation didn't seem to last for more than about 15 minutes, however, during which time they just stood resting. Then they began again the same violent expenditure of energy involved in "herding," up and down the mountain and across the face of cliffs.

Actual copulation, after such a prolonged courtship and a vast expenditure of energy, was surprisingly brief.

A description of copulation, as well as another premating "technique," was recorded earlier on Paleomesa, November 19, 1956, when, as dawn broke, I watched mating activity in a band of 14. The mating was between a new ram which had joined the band the night before and none other than the leader of the band, Old Mama, herself.

Old Mama was quite aggressive, butting and shoving at the ram and then whipping around and nudging him with her hind quarters. He, in turn, stood with his head and neck across hers, and from time to time he would strike upward at her flanks with stiff foreleg. When he landed a sound blow this way, she would squat and emit a small amount of fluid from her vagina.

The actual copulation was brief, the ewe standing with head held forward, the ram mounting, and after two or three movements of adjustment, one long thrust forward, and then slowly sliding backward and off.

Copulation seems more likely to occur when only one ram is "pursuing" a ewe. Our observations indicate a tendency for two or more rams to become sidetracked from their amorous pursuits by the call to arms, and it is not uncommon for a third ram to appear and make off with the prize while the lusty antagonists try to prove to each other which is the better ram.

By constantly traveling back and forth from one spring to another during the rut, the rams, in effect, may increase their ratio to resident ewes by more than two to one. (See table 8.)

The varying results of this temporary imbalance has been recorded many times. A typical incident took place at Navares Spring on September 5, 1957:

5:15 a.m. Temperature, 82°. No wind. Thin clouds in the south.

I have been watching the ground to see if I can determine how early as well as how late sheep may travel. It seems to me that bighorn can travel by 5 a.m. at this time of year. Judging by the darkness of evening in which we have both seen and heard them, they can travel until 8 p.m. Longhorn was traveling across the mountain from the Red Saddle the evening of August 27 at 8 o'clock. The ground was just about equally discernible to me in both instances. I could not see a sidewinder on it, for instance, but I could see a large rock or a ditch well enough for walking.

6:00. It is light enough that I just saw without glasses a white rump patch moving on the point—no animal, just a patch. The 12 X 50 binoculars reveal the ram Nevares II starting across the mountain at Saddle level above the springs. He walks freely and rapidly, as usual not browsing. He is seen eating very little these days.

6:10. The quail are stirring.

6:15. Nevares II is heading for the upper Needle's Eye.

6:20. The sun hits Telescope Peak.

6:23. Nevares II is gone, high up on the Needle's Eye. Temperature, 80°.

6:28. Three sheep are running at Old Spring—a ewe, Full Curl, and Tight Curl. This is the full-tilt run that means business. I don't see a lamb. They are making a complete circle of the entire spring area. Tight Curl is hottest after her. I can see his mouth open, his tongue out, head forward and down, and I can hear him pant and puff! Full Curl is waiting back a way. Now he cuts in as they pass! She heads for Long Spring, grabs a mouthful or two of water. And here's another ram—Nevares II is back! So there she goes—looks like Little Ewe—with three rams in full chase. She heads this way. Nevares II drops out. Full Curl miscalculated. He cut across and she turned this way, and so he's far behind! Tight Curl forced her up the point about half way, and she turned back across the mountain. Full Curl didn't see this so he went hotfooting it up Nevares Wash while the chase went the opposite direction behind him.

6:45. How can they keep this up? She has found the Black Pool and is snatching a quick gulp. Tight Curl does, too, and Nevares II catches up. They head toward Old Spring.

Full Curl is coming down from the Saddle with another ram! This is the long-absent Toby. He and Full Curl take a moment out for a quick clonk and fall in after Tight Curl. The ewe heads for Old Spring, and as she and her four rams approach it another young ram is spooked out of the spring!

They all mill around above the spring and I can't tell who is who in the whirl, but I can see a lamb on the fringe of things. (This ewe lost her lamb in the chase. It came in to water alone on the 7th, but it came again with its mother on the 9th.)

I have gambled on pictures of this. I don't know whether the light is good enough, but I have to try.

They seemed to be leaving the springs and heading toward the Notch, so I thought I might get close enough to identify the new ram; but this was a mistake.

Just as I arrived above Raven Spring, I found that the ewe had switched and was coming back above me. And then the whole band spooked and headed at breakneck speed straight up the mountain.

I, of course, retreated, since interference with their activity is something we always try to avoid. I got the 12X50 binoculars here at camp in time to see some of them go over the Second Ridge into Nevares Canyon. Almost immediately Nevares II came back and headed south behind the First Peak. Then Tight Curl reappeared and headed east up Second Peak, from time to time looking back and down into the canyon where Full Curl and Knocker were evidently still at it. Tight Curl's mouth is still open and his tongue is out.

7:15. All is quiet at Nevares Springs.

7:25. Half a mile away and 2,000 feet up, Tight Curl is approaching the summit of Second Peak and is silhouetted beautifully against the rising sun. Nevares II comes across on the skyline from the south and they hassle awhile on the mountaintop until 7:45 and they leave. All is still now.

Then I hear a last good clonk from the canyon and I wonder: Is it possible that 3-year-old Knocker is so eager to know about life that he takes on Full Curl?

All quiet again.

8:20. The shadows are shortening faster now, racing silently up from the valley floor. It is 92° I will try to catch up on my notes before it gets so hot that sweat soaks the paper whenever I touch it.

10:30. Just after Buddy arrived to take over the second "watch," I heard "sounding" in the north. I called Buddy's attention to it and heard it again, the distant foghorn sound of a big ram "calling." The glasses showed him standing on the rim of Fuzzy Canyon, half a mile to the north, and (even at this distance) also revealed him to be Broken Nose.

He came on down, posed for pictures on the point, and went on down to Long Spring for water and feed. On his way south, he stopped and seemed to be drinking at a place where I didn't know there was water. He went on south and eventually out into the South Wash. When he was far enough away that I couldn't disturb him, I went down and checked where he had seemed to be drinking—and he had been. A small round pool, about 12 inches across and 8 inches deep, was still full after all his drinking.

12:30 p.m. He has gone out of sight up the wash.

1:00. A young ram at Old Spring already has had a drink and is working north. This is Knocker back again; so he had been sidetracked by all the excitement this morning.

We watched him work slowly toward The Saddle when we suddenly realize there is a big ram above him hurrying along at a great rate—Broken Nose! We thought he was a way down the South Wash, somewhere. We look ahead. What is he after now? There it is, just about to enter The Saddle, a ewe and lamb—Dark Eyes and Light Neck! They've obviously already drunk, their sides tight as ticks. How did we miss them? It must have been while we relaxed for about 10 minutes to eat a sandwich. Knocker apparently came in with them and drank with them and hung around just long enough for us to spot him before he followed them away.

1:15. They are through The Saddle and going steadily northward without stopping even to nibble at holly. Last time, on the 2d when Dark Eyes was here, she and Brahma gobbled up thistle and Bebbia for over 2 hours. Today, nothing.

1:45. She and her lamb and Knocker have dropped over into Fuzzy Canyon, but the "Nose" seems to have folded up in the shade somewhere along the way.

4:00. Temperature 106°.

6:00. Buddy was trying to spot three bluish birds flying toward the springs when she spotted instead a big ram going up the First Ridge. It was Tight Curl, last seen early this morning going over the Second Peak! He didn't come down to drink but climbed, tongue out, almost steadily until at 6:30 he went back over the crest of First Peak. Temperature, 102°. (Official temperature, 111°.)

It has been suggested that fewer rams would be desirable: That the four- or five-ram relay chase unnecessarily exhausts the ewe; that lambs are lost in the chase, thus contributing to the mortality rate; that hunting would have reduced the ram ratio and maintained a "better balance of the sexes"; that controlled hunting should, therefore, be considered desirable in sheep areas that are not in the National Park System. This point will be discussed further under "Status for the Future" and "Recommendations for Protection."

Fighting With Other Males

Fighting with other males is a much publicized but little understood phase of bighorn life history.

There is a real question as to whether their dramatic butting bouts are fighting or are simple contests of skill and stamina with little real antagonism involved.

The evidence of this report points strongly toward a ritualistic emphasis on the interpretation of the activity and suggests the need for much more observation and study before definite conclusions can be drawn about the part it plays in the propagation of the species.

Certainly it has nothing to do with the premating collection and maintenance of a "harem," or ewe herd; nor does it seem to result in the elimination of one ram from participation in mating activity with a certain ewe. From our observations, the "fight," "joust," "contest," "clonking," or "brain busting" appears to have no objective whatever except the satisfaction of some deep-seated urge aroused by the mating instinct and demanding and receiving an outlet for its own sake, whether it is with another ram, a bush, a tree, a boulder, or a mountain.

This subject has been discussed to some extent under "Communication" and "Play" and will be treated in its initial stages under "Growth, Behavior, and Care of Young."

The concept of deadly enmity between rams, with a "battle to the death" upon meeting, could scarcely be further from the truth. Rams' reaction to one another varies with each individual: Some challenge and are accepted; others neither challenge nor accept one extended to them. Under no circumstances is it necessary that a ewe be present to precipitate a struggle.

A contest may be heralded by a vocal challenge, as described under "Communication," but it may not.

A series of encounters is included in this report, chosen from many to illustrate, as completely as possible, the scope and complexity of this behavior pattern.

Rams seem to be uninterested in a contest with an inferior opponent. One instance of a young ram badgering a mature one into a duel has been included under "Attention to Females," but the usual reaction of an older ram to the young was well illustrated in Box Canyon near Deadman's Curve on March 23, 1956. Our notes read as follows:

Just before sundown an old ram, apparently spooked by my slamming the truck door, rushed out of the wash and up the rocky slope below and north of Deadman's Curve. He was a full curl, slightly potbellied, and very spooky. He worked his way into nearby Box Canyon, wary and suspicious. He apparently could smell the others there, yet when one of them suddenly appeared he turned and ran pellmell out of the canyon, then stopped, turned back, and cautiously retraced his steps.

He stopped 50 feet from the first ewe. Both stood, heads up, looking. The two lambs came, curiously staring at this ram whom we named The Stranger. Then came the young ram. He at once stood and walked on his hindlegs around the old ram, whose indifference to him could not have been greater.

They have met on a steep slope in the last rays of sunset, a quarter of a mile away, but I could hear the young ram blowing as he walked and could see him slant his head as he sighted for the rush. The Stranger seemed not to see him or his antics until he came to earth with his forefeet and lunged. The old warrior then casually turned his massive horns enough to catch and hold the force of the young ram's charge. He was ready, by force of habit perhaps, braced for it, and gave not an inch. Neither did he take one. The young ram strained against him, plowing deep into the talus, blowing mightily through his nose. Getting nowhere, he backed off, repeated the entire maneuver, rearing, circling on his hindlegs, charging. This was repeated three or four times in 15 minutes. It was like a drunken youth trying to pick a fight with an old prizefighter who has just dropped in for a nightcap.

The lambs both stood together and close by, like two children watching a street brawl on the corner. Once, while the young ram circled, a lamb came forward, nose out, and the old ram touched noses with it.

Suddenly after 15 minutes of badgering The Stranger, the young ram seemed satisfied with the situation, turned away, and began to feed.

The old ram seemed suddenly to catch the scent of Blondie, who was 30 feet above him. His nose went out, and up the hill he went, but she flipped out and away. He trailed her hopefully for several minutes and then got side-tracked by New Mama. She, too, repelled his blandishments, turning, as it were, a cold shoulder to him. All seven of the band were doing likewise. He stood there for several minutes staring at seven white rump patches moving slowly away. He took the hint and turned away down into the bottom of the ravine and climbed slowly up the other side of the canyon to the skyline.

Not only younger rams, but mature smaller rams are also ignored. To illustrate, on August 23, 1957, at 9:25 a.m., two rams came around Needle's Eye trail. One was Roughneck. The other had an outstanding blemish on his right shoulder and was much smaller than Roughneck, although he appeared to be about the same age. Our notes describe the meeting:

Roughneck has drunk for about 2 minutes and is all through, but the new one is nervous, moving around, and has now gone to the new pool at Old Spring and is almost standing on his head to drink from it. Apparently he gets in the water with both feet, as a habit, because he did the same thing while beside Roughneck.

Roughneck has finished drinking and is now going back up the mountain. The new one looks up at him but drinks more, again on his head. I've never seen anything like this. I wonder if that blemish on his shoulder causes this, by forcing him to bend his knees to drink. I can't see his forelegs at all. He reminds me of a bear cub I once saw at Crater Lake with his hindfeet on the rim of a garbage can and the rest of him hanging down inside. This is a strange way of drinking, like a little lamb. (We've seen this three times.) Now when he raises his head and stands up, I see that this new ram was on his knees! His appearance makes the count total 16 rams, 11 rams, and 9 lambs so far at Nevares Seeps since August 11. [Ewes and lambs remained unchanged but rams totaled 27 by September 10.]

Buddy arrived at 9:45, and we have named the new ram Little Joe, because he reminds us of a small belligerent man we once knew by the name of Joe, who had a chip on his shoulder for everybody. This Little Joe has a chip both literally and figuratively. He is constantly picking on big Roughneck, who doesn't want to do anything but rest in the shade.

Little Joe really charges him in the side or on the rump or anywhere it's handy. Roughneck acts bored and irritated by this, but not angry. Once or twice he has obliged by presenting horns, and we hear the familiar woodblock bang again.

They both finally found shady beds, Roughneck first; and then Little Joe made him get up and give him his and go find another for himself.

They and I snoozed until 11:10 when Buddy called me. They were on their way north, Roughneck in the lead by a hundred yards as though he were trying to shed himself of this nuisance, Little Joe, who was hurrying after him as though he weren't about to be shed.

Potential contestants often meet without combat or contest, even during the peak of the rut. A typical illustration of this indifference occurred on September 7, 1957, when two big well-matched rams approached Navares Spring about 4:30 in the afternoon. Tight Curl came trotting across Nevares Wash from the north, went directly to Raven Spring, and without hesitation dropped to his knees and proceeded to quench his considerable thirst in five 30-second drinks before he stood upright again. He then ambled over to Long Spring, where he knelt in the tall grass and was drinking again when Flathorn rounded The Point, saw Tight Curl, and immediately "blew" him a challenge and started rapidly toward him.

We rushed to get our cameras ready for the onslaught. It was still 112° in the shade, and so we soaked several towels, hung them over the cameras, and rushed down to the ledge for action.

Flathorn stopped 10 feet from Tight Curl, who stood immobile, watching. Flathorn turned to one side and began thrashing his horns in a Baccharis bush, but Tight Curl was unimpressed and turned away, pretending to eat. As Flathorn approached him he actually began to eat, ignoring Flathorn's growling shoves. Tiring of this in a few minutes, Tight Curl suddenly walked away a few feet into the shade of a mesquite tree and lay down. In a few minutes Flathorn followed him, and we had two of the best "fighters" we knew lying side by side in the shade.

Excessive heat seems a reasonable explanation of the lack of belligerence between Tight Curl and Flathorn, but it is more difficult to find an explanation for Mahogany's reaction to The Hook on the morning of September 9, 1957.

Mahogany's singular indifference to my proximity early that morning has already been described under "Response to Humans and Equipment." Normally wary and shy as any other ram we knew, he had calmly walked past me on the trail as though I were a boulder which he saw there every day. Now as I watched from camp with the big fieldglass, he lay on the trail, chewing his cud, shifting his big red body slightly now and then, flicking an ear, closing his eyes and pointing his nose skyward occasionally, the very picture of relaxed ruminant well-being.

At 8:30, with the spring area still in shadow and the temperature still only 98°, I heard The Hook's first call from far up in the hazy recesses of Nevares Canyon. Mahogany rose quickly but, to my surprise, looked only briefly toward the call from the canyon. Instead, he turned around in the trail and almost immediately lay down again. The calling of the distant ram persisted and grew louder, but if Mahogany heard it he showed no sign, facing away from the approaching challenge as though it did not exist.

It was 8:45 when I saw for the first time that it was The Hook whose call was being ignored. As he leaped into view and paused ("posed" may be a better word) for a moment against the sky, I caught a glimpse of the jagged end of the broken horn which gave him his name. The carriage of his head, the lithe grace of his entire body, and the dramatic quality of his stance all told who he was.

The Hook was as different in personality from Mahogany as the classic rogue of literature differs from the hero. He was unpredictable, slender and fascinating to watch, with a flair to his every move; whereas, Mahogany was beautiful in a massive and solid way which made the observer feel, without reason, that he would always do what a bighorn was expected to do.

Now as The Hook came plunging down the mountain toward him, Mahogany rose majestically to his feet and turned to face his challenger. But as The Hook, with raised hackles and lowered head, began a menacing approach to him, Mahogany in a most unheroic manner calmly turned away and lay down again. The Hook continued his approach, however, and virtually knocked his reluctant opponent to his feet. Then head to rump and rump to head they shoved each other round and round, "blowing" and "growling" mightily. As was to be expected, Mahogany turned suddenly and began to walk away. The Hook accepted this move at its face value, and he, too, started to walk in the opposite direction.

But instead of rearing to his hindlegs for a charge as our hero would be expected to do, Mahogany again started to lie down. This seemed to infuriate The Hook, who whirled and charged him anyway, catching him half down and knocking him over on his side. The Hook then bounded lightly away a length or two and turned, awaiting expectantly for a retaliation—which never came. With incomprehensible good nature, Mahogany shook off a cloud of dust and lay down again! The Hook leaped forward furiously, pounded Mahogany on the rump with a front hoof, then on the shoulder. He lowered his horns and bore down on Mahogany's belly, but Mahogany just lay there and actually began chewing his cud.

This appeared to be beyond toleration for The Hook, who danced around to the front of Mahogany and leaped into the air, landing astraddle the prostrate ram, wrong end to. This brought Mahogany to his feet beneath The Hook in a whirling confusion which ended with both rams on their sides in a cloud of dust. The Hook leaped up and squared away for a charge, but again none came. Again Mahogany lay down. He just did not want to fight. Over and over again The Hook would rouse him to his feet and wait for an onslaught which never came. Finally with magnificent anticlimax, The Hook roused him once more and with superb contempt lay down in Mahogany's bed. Impassively the big ram pawed another bed, lay down, yawned, closed his eyes, and pointed his nose into the first rays of the morning sun, and silence reigned on the mountain. The 9 o'clock temperature was an even 100°.

Half an hour later, with my attention momentarily diverted by a lizard on a waterbag, The Hook vanished and I never found where he had gone. Mahogany had the mountainside to himself for another half hour; then at 10:30, in full sunshine and 102° of temperature, he got up from his bed and climbed briskly through The Saddle and into Nevares Canyon as the morning haze was lifted by the heat waves rising beneath it.

Actual full-fledged bouts between rams is seldom observed for two principal reasons. The first of these is one of time and place, a combination of hot weather and inaccessible terrain. The bouts increase in intensity as the mating season advances into late summer when few observers are willing to spend enough time in the back country to be accepted by the bighorn as part of the scene. Until they are thus accepted, the second reason—the natural wariness of the bighorn toward the introduction of strange elements into his surroundings— will continue to obtain; that is, observers will continue to disrupt his normal activities to the extent that he is likely to retreat beyond the range of observation before engaging in an activity which cannot be carried on with divided attention. During 1955 and 1956, we had made many observations of rams together during the season of the year when "fights" were supposed to take place, but always their attention was occupied almost entirely by us as long as we were in sight of them. Our following them only increased their wariness of us.

It was not until the summer of 1957, when we "sat it out" for 30 days a quarter of a mile from the Nevares Seeps, that we finally created acceptable conditions for the making of these observations. We were there for 10 days, from August 10 to August 20, before the rams turned their gaze from us beneath our distant mesquite back to each other and these amazing contests began to take place. Between August 20 and September 10, we saw innumerable hassles, with much shoving, sharp "infighting," and "right upper cuts" with the stiff foreleg, but only eight times were these preliminaries climaxed by the measured walk away from each other, the simultaneous whirling turn and rise to the hindlegs, the astounding upright run toward each other, and the incredible precision and force of the blasting lunge.

It is doubtful if the human body would survive one such concussion, by comparison with the ram, whose bouts may range from one strike to the most spectacular contest of our records when Tabby fought Full Curl to a total of 48 blasts in one day.

A typical single-strike contest, complete with preliminaries and post bellum maneuvers, began before sunrise at 6:15 on August 20, 1957, when two 7-year-old rams, Roughneck and The Hook, came trotting single file down the Needle's Eye trail toward the Round Pool. The Hook apparently caught a movement on the mountain because he stopped and, with his head far back, stared upward toward Middle Peak. Roughneck came directly on down to the pool. Our notes describe what happened:

I can see the slight roughness all over Roughneck's neck, shoulders, and back, but he is in fine shape. He is going back up. He meets the other ram, who "ups" to him. He whirls, hitting The Hook on the shoulder with his rump and goes on around. He lowers his head and pushes against The Hook's neck. The Hook stands with his nose straight up, and Roughneck rubs his horns up and down his neck.

Then, suddenly, they back off about 10 feet apart and hit—and I have heard the loud crack we've read so much about. You know what it is when you hear it. It sounds like rams meeting head on!

Too dark yet for pictures.

6:25. Dark Eyes and her lamb (what The Hook stopped to watch) came on down to drink, and Roughneck drinks again with her. The one bang seemed to be just a gesture. The Hook is standing up there, just looking. Now he sticks his nose out and again comes slithering toward them. He passes the ewe and goes to Roughneck and shoves him in the rump with his shoulder. Then, he suddenly mounts the other ram! He slides right off again.

This seems to be part of the mating behavior pattern. Roughneck didn't even stop drinking. The Hook dropped off and walked away without drinking and started toward Round Pool.

6:35. While The Hook was off drinking by himself, Roughneck started working on Dark Eyes, who promptly took to the hills on the south trail toward the Needle's Eye.

6:40. The Hook has overtaken them. Roughneck saw him coming and stopped and stood with his head sideways, his nose out. The Hook turns his head sideways, with his nose out, and they slink rapidly toward each other. They bypass each other's horns and manage to hit jostingly, a shoulder against a hip, whip around and stand noses together and straight up.

Now Roughneck breaks the pose after 10 seconds, starts back toward the Springs. The ewe and her lamb go on through the Needle's Eye. The Hook just stands there.

The above was scarcely an adequate introduction to the incredible encounter of the following day, August 21, 1957 when, with the temperature 88° at 5:30 a.m., I found a large dark ram lying down by an old blind at the foot of the mountain, above Old Spring. I saw that he was mature, and in the dim light looked like old Mahogany. As the light grew brighter, I wondered if his horns were heavy and broomed enough for Mahogany.

6:25. He has scarcely moved until now, when he stretched his head forward and laid it on the ground with all its weight on the tip of his right horn and his nose, or muzzle.

6:28. He raised his head enough to turn it and rest it on his left horn and muzzle.

I wonder if this is one way of brooming horntips? It's the only time I have ever seen the tips of rams' horns touch the ground under any circumstances.

6:30. I hear rocks, and so does old Mahogany. He's on his feet. Here they come: A ewe being chased by a young ram. Can this be Knocker and, yes, it's Longhorn.

6:48. They are milling around near Old Spring. The young ram, as is the way with young rams, has more or less stepped aside for old Mahogany. Longhorn says all she wants is a drink, but the boys try to keep her away. As the light gets better I see that it is not Knocker, but Slim drinking. Now Longhorn gets her head down. Mahogany and Shim are nosing each other, and the poor girl is finally getting a drink. After 4 minutes the rams leave each other and Mahogany starts nudging Longhorn, but she finishes her drink now no matter how much head-tossing and hip-rolling and smacking he indulges in. It was 6 minutes of drinking for her.

6:56. The rams are pushing each other around. I hear rocks again. The sheep do, too—to their left and up the mountain.

7:00. Longhorn stops, looks up the mountain, but is now drinking again—2 minutes this time.

The young ram is scarcely 3 years old. He is no bigger than Longhorn, but he is very aggressive. His horns are very high, with the same curve as hers. Her son? Mahogany twists his head nearly upside down and with a wriggling lip makes a quick pass at her.

Slim seems too young or something to have learned the "lip-flick" in his approach to the girls.

While writing that, I heard rocks and look up to find Slim standing alone. At 7:12, I find Mahogany and Longhorn 300 yards up the mountain. She is squatting to urinate which, of course, always ties a ram in knots of hip-curling and taking stances of various kinds, which allows the girls either to stand still a few minutes or take advantage of his trance to get a headstart.

They are "pointing" the mountain again, but I can't find anything yet.

7:20. Here he comes, another ram—a new one! Tall, thin, long-necked, three quarter curl, slender horns and very flat, the sharpest curl in toward the end. Slightly Roman-nosed. Slightly mottled on the shoulders and back. Noticeably high-shouldered and ewe-necked. Brown, not mahogany or gray. He is, in fact, the perfect Nevares-type ram. Mahogany, in comparison, looks like a Durham bull.

As the newcomer—named Nevares I—crosses toward the first saddle I can see that the mottled appearance was probably caused by late shedding as of last year. But he is putting on a remarkable burst of energy, almost trotting straight away from the spring, never stopping, ignoring Longhorn (who, I notice for the first time, has white eyebrows!) and Mahogany and hurrying toward The Saddle with the air of a man hurrying back to a sick friend.

7:40. He's gone. He came in at 7:20, did his drinking, and is over the ridge again in 20 minutes.

7:50. Mahogany has followed Longhorn over the ridge.

8:30. Half an hour ago I heard horn-banging over the ridge, so I grabbed a camera and got around there in time to see Mahogany putting Nevares I to flight. Little Slim nowhere to be seen. Of course, Longhorn was standing innocently by. I tried to get around to where the light would be good, but they spooked at seeing me in a different place. Longhorn and Mahogany went up the first ridge and Nevares I went to the left toward Nevares Canyon. I tagged along, thinking I might get him going over the skyline.

Before we reached there we met another mature ram on his way in. Too far away to recognize without glasses and I had none with me. He went down out of sight and I waited for about 5 minutes, when suddenly he appeared on the skyline, against the sun, right above me. Just about the biggest head of horns I've ever seen. I tried to get a silhouette of him but I'm afraid he was gone too soon. I started back and soon came out from behind that ridge and found all three big boys tagging Longhorn up the mountain. I came back to camp and the big glasses.

I watched them until Longhorn led them around the top shoulder of the First Peak.

9:00. Two of them have reappeared on the very top of First Peak and are banging horns on the skyline. The big glasses show these to be Mahogany and Full Curl.

9:10. I tried for a telephoto shot; I don't know—for the last 5 minutes they've been standing still, except for Mahogany constantly banging Full Curl in the belly with that rigid right which Full Curl seems not to mind at all. Temperature, 94°

They have apparently given Longhorn to Nevares I. When they were all together these two would start hassling and Nevares I would sneak off with Longhorn.

9:25. Buddy arrived and with delight took over the watching of the two big rams, who were still upsing [striking upward with stiff foreleg, but not hard] to each other near the top of the First Peak. I need not have been afraid she would miss them, because they almost at once began to work their way down toward the spring, pausing continually for a squaring off and a series of maneuvers ending in a little brain-busting each time. We were so pre-occupied with our first extended observations of the "bartering-ram" business that we did not keep a blow-by-blow account of it.

Seeing that they were coming in (Mahogany for the second time) and that they might do some fighting close enough for pictures, I began setting up all cameras on hand in readiness, while Buddy kept the glasses on them. I made it just as the first ram, Full Curl, hit the spring area at 9:40.

They were here from 9:40 until about noon, feeding, drinking, fighting. We have spent the entire time with the cameras, and we hope to have good pictures of them, both movies and slides.

We are pooling our observations for details of this phase of behavior, however. It is difficult to keep notes during their activities because of the speed with which developments occur. We found that we were constantly trying to write something down, hearing something else happen, and hooking at each other, asking, "What was that?" So, for the main description of the patterns they follow (and in this they do have patterns), we will depend on a dictated account, which was done while I watched and reported and Buddy wrote. This will be filled in by both of us as we see fit and appended to the end of these notes.

We were surprised and delighted that they chose to come to Raven and Long Springs and stayed on this side of the Nevares Seeps throughout the entire time. All the old rams have gone to Old Spring before, or to Round Pool.

We were most lucky that it was a cool day, maximum of 104° here and overcast, and cooler most of the rime. We were able to work out on the brow of the point the entire time without discomfort to ourselves or danger to our equipment.

Although we have never seen Full Curl here before, he was not a newcomer. He knew where to go for water and led the way in and out, although this was Mahogany's third or fourth trip, his second today. He's older, probably 10 or 11, slightly potbellied but still with great vigor.

Mahogany follows about 50 feet behind him and waits until he stops; then he deliberately strolls up and with his muzzle lifts Full Curl's romp off the ground. Full Curl ignores this. It has happened three or four times.

Full Curl seldom uses the stiff right, but Mahogany loves it. He is constantly smacking Full Curl somewhere when he is in a "clinch" with him—maybe in the chest, the belly, the penis or the testicles, but in no case does it seem to be painful. Especially when it lands in the genital area, it is more of a lifting shove than a blow.

After tolerating it repeatedly for several minutes, Full Curl will often walk away to the proper distance and they both whirl and get set for a bang.

This nonchalant turning away fooled us several times early in the game. We actually thought the jousting was over, and we would try to get something done quickly and be prepared for their next round, only to hear the bang before we had scarcely turned away.

They do sometimes actually eat during these displays of indifference, which could account to some extent for the good condition of these rams despite these prolonged expenditures of energy.

At one time, after a particularly violent blast, Full Curl turned away and, apparently at some signal, Mahogany walked right up to him and side by side they proceeded a few yards to Raven Spring, where they stood flank to flank and drank for several minutes.

10:45. They began to travel north, up over the foot of First Ridge, across the main Nevares Wash and on north, Full Curl in the lead, Mahogany following, occasionally catching up to Full Curl and lifting his hindquarters from the ground with his muzzle. Full Curl seems to ignore this completely, and it seems to be friendly, to say the least.

12:15. They finally disappear to the right in the canyon north of Red Wall.

We tried to catch up on our notes and I took a nap.

4:20. Buddy roused me by asking if I heard that bang. From then until 7:32 we watched an unusual match of skill and strength and, to an extent, deceit.

These two are evenly matched and seem to enjoy this brain-busting, and as far as we can tell enmity or antagonism is not part of it. Competition, perhaps.

This second series of encounters between Mahogany and Full Curl took place high up on the foot of Dromedary Ridge, at least an airline three-quarters of a mile from here, but the structure of the cliffs surrounding the arena was such that the hollow woodblock sound of impact reached us clearly. The 12 x 50 glasses allowed clear observation of every move, which otherwise would have been barely discernible to the naked eye.

Not being concerned with picture taking at this distance, we were able to concentrate on their behavior. We counted 20 head-on crashes in 1 hour, all of which we saw as well as heard from three-quarters of a mile away. And when they finally ambled over the upper end of Pink Ridge at 7:32, they showed no sign of pain or fatigue or ill will toward each other. They had sparred, waltzed, wrestled, and tilted for nearly 7 hours, as well as climbed several miles through the roughest terrain in the valley, and were feeling fine!

Here are some of the details of the behavior pattern during these contests. This one began on the crest of First Nevares Peak about 9 a.m., continued down the face of the mountain to the spring area. It was pursued there for about an hour and a half, then north along the trail until 12:15. There was a lull, as far as we are concerned, since we neither saw nor heard them until 4:20. Then they took it up on the black limestone slope in the shade of an east-facing cliff on Dromedary Ridge, and they had no respite until sundown, when they took each other by the horn, so to speak, and went over the skyline.

One bears down on the other's rump with muzzle, and at times will push a foreleg between the hindlegs of the other as if to hit the genitals. The other does not shrink from this blow and appears never to be hurt by it. In fact, the aggressor seems to "pull his punch" as it lands.

They may butt each other on the rump for some time, milling around and around, leaving churned-up earth for the sign reader. We call these hassle grounds.

They hold noses side by side, heads high and back, and seem to be pushing the sides of their faces against each other, not their horns.

Stiff foreleg is delivered from the front, side, or back, just as it is to ewes in mating activity.

After sharp jab at other's shoulder with tip of horn, both stretch up high in air.

Aggressive activities are interspersed with most casual browsing, or at least a pretense of browsing.

They sometimes nip each other in the flank in the same manner a ram nips a ewe in the flank in mating activity.

One ram will put his forehead against the other's side and push, causing the other to whip around.

One pushes with his forehead the fullness of the other's neck or his chest while he holds his head high in the air in obvious enjoyment.

They will stand nose to nose for 5 minutes at a time, eyes nearly closed.

Each puts his nose against the other's shoulder and turns around and around. (See fig. 51.)

With a shoulder to a rump and a rump to a shoulder, they may growl and "waltz" around and around for half an hour at a time.

They scratch on each others" horns sometimes; each in turn accommodatingly holds his horns steady for the other.

After cracking horns loudly, they stand away, noses in the air again. The farthest away we have seen them walk from each other today is 30 feet when they come head on; usually it is from about 10 feet. On the other hand, they may knock horns at 4 or 5 feet, or just lean back in their tracks and lunge forward without moving their feet.

They stand away from other other, noses in air, sizing up each other. They may crash horns or they may just both forget it and start to eat, or one walk toward the other with a peculiar side-to-side motion of the head, which seems to be the signal for a clinch, which they do.

As the area in shadow increases, the scope of their activities increases with it.

Part of the ritual, which seems to be understood by both parties concerned, is the overly casual walking away on the part of one (figs. 52 and 53) after a certain amount of hassling to any distance he chooses, which may be anywhere from 5 to 30 feet. He will casually start to feed, while the other watches warily, sometimes with head up, sometimes with head almost to the ground, always watching the feeding one. This feeding will be broken by an incredibly swift whirl and leap into the air by the feeding one, which never fools anyone except the uninitiated observer. Sometimes the feeding will go on too long to suit the other, and he will begin a cautious advance. They may rise to their hindlegs on the whirl (fig. 54), tilt their heads and sight down their noses for several seconds, in situ, then simply drop to the ground again.

Elaborate pretense of not knowing what the other is doing, seems part of it.

The accuracy of the collisions is really remarkable, but it isn't 100 percent perfect. If they hit off center, both heads are twisted violently to one side. Occasionally they miss enough to catch their entire weight in the crook of a single horn (fig. 59), in which case they lunge past each other with one or the other of the horns sliding out of the crook over the tip. This could break off the tip, causing brooming. (Three days later when we again saw Full Curl, one of the participants in these observations, he had lost several inches from the tip of his left horn.)

This seems a much more logical explanation of brooming than the alleged use of the horns in digging for plants, which we have never seen. We did, in fact, pick up a newly split-off ram horntip in a churned-up area near Virgin Spring last year.

The rams generally do not stagger back from the shock and regain their balance or control of themselves, as might be expected from such a collision. They seldom lose control of themselves in any way. They do not, as a matter of fact, fold up at all. Their entire physical setup seems timed to the blow to such an extent that, barring a slip or a miscalculation, the recoil is under perfect control, and they come to the ground in perfect balance, braced for any next move the other might make. Usually there is none for a few seconds. They just stand there with noses up, heads back and eyes nearly closed. Mahogany and Full Curl showed no sign of shock or pain after crashing 48 times by count in one day.

The low blowing sound, or growl, seems to be part of a generally aggressive mood and attitude in one designed to shake the confidence of the other. When this happens, the ram seems to be utilizing every muscle in his body to make this sound. His neck arches, his head is held very high, nose tucked in. The muscles throughout his torso tighten, his back arches slightly, and he seems to stand on tiptoe and tower above his opponent. He then expels his breath, apparently through his nose, which, when coupled with seeing his threatening action, seems to be some sort of a growl but, when heard without viewing the accompanying action, sounds ridiculously like an old man snoring in the early morning hours.

On September 10, 1957, Tabby and Broken Nose blasted each other more than 40 times (we didn't start counting from the beginning) in 2 hours. The bulges of cartilage on the back of their heads at the base of their horns, which apparently act as shock absorbers, had increased in size as the contest progressed, and from time to time the lower jaw of each ram was held on one side as though it might be dislocated. Another collision or two seemed to correct this difficulty and the jaw would be held normally again. Their noses gradually became swollen and puffy from the tip to between the eyes, but we saw no blood either from the nostrils or the ears, as legend would have it. As is commonly the case, no ewes were present during the entire time, nor did they seem to be looking for any. When for some reason they both decided they'd had enough, they ambled into the mouth of Redwall Canyon and lay down side by side for a 10-minute rest before they parted company as casually as though they were unaware of the existence of each other.

We have had reports from other areas of rams teaming up for "the season," fighting their battles together against all comers and, at least tacitly, dividing the "spoils" between them. The closest we have come to observing this in Death Valley was on August 28, 1957. Full Curl had been in the Nevares Spring area since 6:57 a.m. when we noted at 1:40 p.m. that he had met The Hook on Slope Trail. Our notes read:

1:45. New ram [Toby] at Round Pool. A three-quarter curl, tannish, bump on nose, reddish "wig" on back of head. Horns seem to be completely symmetrical and unbroomed, whitish instead of yellow.

2:00. He's gone south and met The Hook and Full Curl. He's not sleek as they are, low hipped and rather high shouldered.

2:35. Toby (with the thatch on the back of his head) suddenly broke off relations with Full Curl and The Hook and walked off the slope into the South Wash.

For the last half hour they've been hassling on the Slope Trail. More or less same routine, except once when Toby and The Hook clashed, The Hook shot clear under Toby and, more or less on his knees, came out the back way. Whether Toby overshot or The Hook undershot the mark I wouldn't know. They both seemed a little surprised but squared off and made a better job next time.

During this interlude the two oldtimers seemed to center their attention entirely on the newcomer. Although they had been doing a lot of infighting before Toby came along, they stopped it entirely and seemed to take turns on him until he heft. He was not licked by any means; he just lost interest after about half a dozen clashes in 35 minutes.

3:00. All three of them showed up in the cut-bank shade of the South Wash and resumed their tiffs there.

3:30. I went into the drainage below them and got chose enough, I hope, for good pictures of jousting. The wind, however, was terrific and very hot and may have spoiled much of it. I could hardly stand up in it sometimes.

The films taken during this time recorded an unexpected maneuver, the simultaneous "strike" of three rams at once, repeated several times. Full Curl and The Hook, standing about 5 feet apart and 10 feet away and facing Toby, would rise and "sight" him, and he, taking it all for granted, rose and "sighted" them both, taking the full impact of each ram on a single horn.

On one occasion as The Hook and Full Curl stood shoulder to shoulder facing Toby, Full Curl rose to Toby who rose to meet him, but, as they both sighted and lunged, Toby suddenly shifted his aim to The Hook, who could do no more than take it while Full Curl stood on his hindlegs sighting an adversary who had already passed him for another.

The difficulty in determining the objective of this intense activity should now be apparent. Of the eight full-fledged bouts we have recorded, not in one instance has a ewe been present during the entire time. Death or even severe injury appears to be more accident than intent. We have no record of one ram seeming "win" over another in the sense that one is beaten down or back and put to flight by another. Nor have we observed an instance of a "winning" contestant pressing a temporary advantage over another. When The Hook caught Toby in the face as he leaped up the bank toward him, he watched Toby with all the appearance of delight in the other's discomfiture, actually kicking up his heels in apparent glee when Toby finally gave up and went around and came up the long and safer way.

That some sort of sexual satisfaction is derived from the contests is indicated by the fact that it occurs only during the rut. It has been suggested that it may be vestigial behavior from an earlier race with a harem pattern, but our observations yielded no evidence to support such speculation. This much is certain: The contests have no direct connection with the acquisition of a mate or mates. If a ewe is present when a contest begins, she has no effect on it or it on her. She is just as likely to wander off with another ram, unnoticed by the contestants.

Response to Young

Response to young by mature rams seems to be practically non-existent. We have no observations indicating an interest in lambs of either a destructive or a constructive nature.

Younger rams, up to 3 years of age, appear actually to enjoy the company of lambs, but older rams have at most been observed to touch noses with a lamb on rare occasions or butt one out of the way on equally rare occasions with no affection or animosity suggested by either action. (See "Growth, Behavior, and Care of Young.")

Under no circumstances does the ram appear to share in the responsibility for the care of the young.

One attitude of the mature ram was recorded at Old Spring on September 6, 1957. Tight Curl had been browsing with Brahma and her lamb, Little Brahma, when from across the thicket Tight Curl got a "scent"; his nose went out, his head down, and his hackles up, and he slithered through the Baccharis and thistles, came around a big boulder to find Little Brahma on his knees at a clump of grass. Tight Curl plowed to a stop, his head flew up, and he looked quickly around and lost interest.

Group Activity

Group activity among Death Valley rams seems to be limited to the 4 or 5 months of late winter and early spring when they separate themselves from the ewes, lambs, and young rams and form the far-ranging bachelor bands, about whose function and specificity very little is known.

During this study we have been able to locate but three bands of rams during the off season, and the remoteness and roughness of the terrain in all three cases prevented us from maintaining the contact necessary for the continuous, daylong observations that form the basis for this report.

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Last Modified: Thurs, May 16 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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