Viewing Bighorn Sheep


While the Refuge Road offers spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities, the increased use on the road can have a considerable negative impact on the bighorn sheep population and is a concern to wildlife managers.

Bighorn sheep are frequently seen on or near the Refuge Road. They're identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department meaning their conservation status warrants increased management attention. Local populations of bighorn sheep, along with other herds across the Rocky Mountain west, have experienced significant declines in population due to pneumonia outbreaks.

The bighorn sheep near the Refuge Road often boldly approach vehicles to lick and ingest the salts and minerals found on the vehicle's surface. Because pneumonia is a chronic condition in this herd, licking off a shared surface greatly increases the chances that a disease may spread to other uninfected sheep. There may also be harmful chemicals on a car or truck's surface that could be harmful to consume. Consequently, wildlife managers are concerned with the high number of people that stop on the Refuge Road to allow this to happen.

Rather than stopping in the Refuge Road, wildlife watchers are encouraged to keep slowly driving when sheep approach their vehicle, continuing to a pullout further from the herd and then walking to within a reasonable distance for photos or observation. 

Encouraging wildlife to congregate near roads or giving them a food reward -- even if it's just a lick of a salty surface-- almost always has disastrous results. Something as simple as continuing to slowly drive by a herd of sheep is an easy solution and way for people to contribute to the conservation and health of these fascinating animals. Wildlife may not know better than to approach a vehicle, but you do. Although it may feel flattering and exciting if any kind of wildlife approaches you, the best solution is always to back away or slowly move from the area to a safe distance. 

The popularity of selfies and capturing any moment through photographs or video is posing a new threat to wildlife and humans. Visitors on a quest for the perfect photo may start to provoke animals, and, in some instances, alter their behaviors as a result. We invite you to view and photograph wildlife on the National Elk Refuge and enjoy the experience, but photographing and sharing images of inappropriate human interactions with wildlife is discouraged as it may further promote or encourage these harmful practices. Please give careful consideration to posting images on social media that make light of these detrimental practices.

Keep in mind that quietly watching wildlife from a distance can be even more rewarding than getting the perfect shot. Use your zoom or a telephoto lens, or put your camera down and take a moment to really appreciate the moment and experience.

While viewing bighorn sheep, visitors may notice some animals with GPS collars. These collared animals help wildlife managers identify migration corridors between winter and summer ranges, increasing knowledge about the potential scope of future pneumonia outbreaks, should they occur. 

More information on proper wildlife viewing is posted on our Winter Wildlife Viewing link. A printable version of our Winter Wildlife Viewing Guide, including a map, can be downloaded here (Adobe PDF).