By Mark Watson, Black Hills Pioneer —
DEADWOOD — Deadwood’s bighorn sheep herd is thriving, and its members still give people a show around the city. The herd frequents an area of rocks on Deadwood Hill, and they amaze some people by their agility on steep rocks.
“They are excellent rock climbers. They are a close second to mountain goats,” said John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for the South Dakota, Game, Fish, and Parks. “Mountain goats are a bit more agile.”
The reason for their dexterity comes largely with the design of their hooves.
“They are a little bit different than say a deer or elk or other cloven-hooved animals,” Kanta said. “Sheep have hooves that are fatter and wider, and on the bottom of them, it’s more of a soft pad. I call it a suction cup, which really isn’t a good description, but I say that, because it helps them grab the rock and stick to the rock versus a hard hoof that would slip on the rock.”
As the sheep step down, the pad grips the rock while the outside of the hoof remains ridged.
“The cool thing is, these lambs are up and walking within hours, and within a week or so they are all over those rocks jumping around,” Kanta said. “You watch them sometimes and cringe.”
However, the sheep can have accidents.
“We’ve documented not only lambs, but also adults falling off the rocks to their death or injuring themselves,” Kanta said. “It happens even though they are great climbers.”
Overall, the herd that was transplanted in February, is in “excellent” condition. The GF&P released 26 sheep into the Grizzly Gulch burn area, and for the most part, they have remained in the area biologists thought they would.
One ram, a 3-year-old, left the area and traveled near St. Onge where it came in contact with domestic sheep. It turned around and headed back to Deadwood where GF&P employees shot it before it came back into contact with wild sheep. Domestic sheep can pass on a pasteurella bacteria that causes pneumonia and decimates the wild herds. It is the department’s policy to destroy any wild sheep that comes into contact with domestic sheep.
One ewe died as result of capture and another of unknown reasons. Two ewes were killed by vehicles: one on Strawberry Hill, and the other on Interstate 90 just west of Exit 23.
“We have a bunch of lambs running around,” Kanta said. “Overall, their numbers are greater than when we brought them.”
The department released 26, and there were at least 13 lambs that joined the herd this spring.
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