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North Dakota Outdoors - Bighorns Part1



They were among the original inhabitants of the state. The Mandan people called them Ansa-chta. To the Lakota, they were Hekin shkagi.

Lewis and Clark reported sighting them at the mouth of the Yellowstone.

The arriving white settlers named them ... Bighorn Sheep, after the rams' wonderful, curling horns. But they didn't fare so well at the encroachment of civilization.

By 1905, the Audubon Bighorn in North Dakota had vanished -- victim of unregulated hunting. The last Bighorn was spotted on Magpie Creek, not far from Teddy Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch.

You have to think that some part of the soul of the land died ... when the last Bighorn disappeared.

And for fifty years, that's the way it was. The Audubon Bighorns were gone.

But other Bighorns made it back. In 1956, Game and Fish decided it was time to return these first inhabitants to their native home. Who had a better claim, after all, to these "Badlands" than a species who had roamed these hills for 10,000 years?

Eighteen sheep were imported from British Columbia and released at Magpie Creek, fittingly enough. More Bighorns were released in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in 1959 and 1960.

The sheep haven't broken any records for population growth -- they live in tough country. But they've survived. Today, 300 Bighorns in eleven bands roam across western North Dakota. Their numbers are large enough that they've become a huntable game species, with a small, but dependable harvest each fall.

Interview with Sam: They're a beautiful animal. A prize trophy and nice to have in North Dakota. Another species for sportsmen to utilize ...

Part of the job of maintaining the herd has been continual transplanting. The purpose is to promote breeding between the small bands. This practice prevents inbreeding and decreases the likelihood of undesirable traits ...

This is Lex Hames, for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, out in the "Badlands."


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Last modified Oct. 2, 1995