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Coachella Valley’s Bighorn Institute

Coachella Valley’s Bighorn Institute

     The most exclusive place in the Coachella Valley belongs to the Bighorn Institute... and no, it’s not a golf course. By Scott Alvarez

Courtesy of the Bighorn Institute

Photo: Courtesy the Bighorn Institute

What exactly is a Bighorn Institute? Bighorn Institute is an "invite only" facility that is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization created in 1982 by a group of biologists and veterinarians to investigate the causes of bighorn sheep declines, with the primary focus being to save the endangered Peninsular desert bighorn sheep. It focuses on the endangered Peninsular bighorn in southern California and has long been recognized as an official recovery facility for the species. Over the past 34 years, its captive breeding and wild population augmentation program has resulted in the release of 126 bighorn into the wild. More critically, these efforts have kept two local herds from disappearing altogether. The Institute also monitors wild bighorn populations along the southern rim of the Coachella Valley from Palm Springs to La Quinta. Bighorn Institute is the only organization of its kind and has had success over the years thanks to the generosity and support of its Board of Directors and members.
"Coachella Valley was where the main problem was. The Department of Fish and Game had fifty sheep herds throughout the state, and they were concerned with the welfare of this subspecies because they realized that it was the biggest sheep problem in the state" - Executive Director Jim DeForge
Why place a research center on Peninsular bighorn sheep in the Coachella Valley? Peninsular bighorn sheep inhabit dry, rocky, low-elevation desert slopes, canyons, and washes from the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains near Palm Springs, California south into Baja California, Mexico. These sheep are known as low elevation bighorn because they inhabit places from 400' - 4,000' elevation. Also, as Executive Director Jim DeForge explains, “It [Coachella Valley] was where the main problem was. The Department of Fish and Game had fifty sheep herds throughout the state, and they were concerned with the welfare of this subspecies because they realized that it was the biggest sheep problem in the state. Some of us got into the medical research and that set the stage for coming here and looking into the cause of the decline”. Jim has dedicated his life to the conservation and preservation of the Peninsular bighorn sheep and has been with the Bighorn Institute since its establishment in 1982. Through his efforts and dedication, Jim DeForge has opened many doors for other biologists interested in the Peninsular bighorn sheep such as, Kansas State graduate and Associate Director, Aimee Byard. Not long ago researchers could not touch, collar, or interact with the sheep.
Ram Skull

Photo: Endangered Bighorn Peninsular Sheep Ram Skull by CoachellaValley.com

Byard has been with the Bighorn Institute for 16 years, she pointed out, “When Bighorn Institute was founded nothing was around us, then the neighbors (housing developments) moved in, but thankfully we have this pristine location that is a preserve for our sheep”. Throughout the years the Bighorn Institute has provided ecological information related to bighorn sheep to various organizations and agencies to promote the conservation and proper management of wild sheep and their habitat. Their work is conducted with the cooperation and oversight of the California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Where did the sheep at the Bighorn Institute come from? Aimee Byard explains, “Some of them were born here, but originally the captive herd was brought in from the wild”. It is very important to note that the Bighorn Institute is not a zoo. These are wild animals that will be released to help preserve their species. Due to the sensitive nature of both the disease research and the captive-rearing and wild release program, sheep at Bighorn Institute are not available for public viewing.
Take an exclusive insider's look of Coachella Valley's personal experience at the Institute early this month
  In its 34th year, The Bighorn Institute is still a growing project. New facilities including offices, animal care units, and research laboratories are planned for the near future. How is the Bighorn Institute Funded? Funding for the Bighorn Institute's programs is derived from individual contributions, private foundations, and public sector grants. The Bighorn Institute also has fundraisers throughout the year. Their biggest fundraiser is just days away. Here's how you can get involved: The 2016 Annual Party & 29th Annual Golf Classic. You can also become a Member and even Join their Adopt A Sheep Program
"It is very important to note that the Bighorn Institute is not a zoo. These are wild animals that will be released to help preserve their species." - Associate Director, Aimee Byard
CoachellaValley has a unique way anyone can help bring awareness to the Bighorn Institute’s cause. Its simple. We at Coachella Valley would like our readers and fans to take part in a new Awarness Campaign. Just take a selfie with one of the many Bighorn Ram Statutes that are placed throughout the Coachella Valley. Tag @CoachellaValley  and @BighornInstitute, and be sure to use the hashtag #SaveTheBighorn Here are a few Ram Satute locations to get you started:
Palm Desert Sheriff's Station

Palm Desert Sheriff's Station

Palm Springs International Airport

Palm Springs International Airport

Desert Sands Unified School District

Desert Sands Unified School District

  WEBSITE: BighornInstitute.ORG ​​Contact: 760-346-7334 bi@bighorninstitute.org ​Mailing Address: P.O. Box 262,Palm Desert, CA 92261-0262
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