Naturalist plans free presentation on Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Farmington library

Chadd Drott has spent 60 days living among, observing Montana herd

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Wildlife expert Chadd Drott will discuss Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep conservation efforts during a presentation on Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Farmington Public Library.
  • Drott will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 in the Multipurpose Room at the Farmington Public Library.
  • A question-and-answer session will follow, and Drott will be offering photographs for sale.
  • Drott is a former firefighter who now leads regular tours of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

FARMINGTON — When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, wildlife expert and naturalist Chadd Drott plans to travel the world, spending time observing and photographing some of the wild species he hasn't yet had the chance to study.

But he said he'll retain a special fondness for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a species that will be the subject of a free presentation Drott will deliver later this week in Farmington.

Drott has spent 60 days over a two-year period living among the world's largest herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in a Montana preserve, chronicling the behavior and physical traits of a species that he said has adapted remarkably well to its rugged surroundings.

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"I would go to sleep, then wake up and unzip my tent, and they're laying all around you," Drott said, recalling how little fear the sheep in the preserve — who had never been targeted by human hunters — had of him during his extended stays in their midst. "So I got a lot of good footage. I could literally set up my camera, and they would walk right by you. I was just part of the herd."

Drott plans to talk about Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep conservation efforts, but much of his presentation will focus on the uniqueness of the species, which he plans to demonstrate through photographs and video footage.

"I've studied this animal a lot, and there are some amazing things to know about them," he said, citing as an example their well-known ability to smash their heads against each other without being injured, partly to establish dominance during the breeding season.

Drott said researchers have proven it would be impossible for humans to duplicate the ferocity and speed of those collisions without being injured, even with the advantages of protective equipment.

Chadd Drott

"No matter how good your make your gear, you can't physically do it," he said.

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The other well-known trait of Rocky Mountain bighorns, their sure footedness, is perhaps even more interesting, he said. Their hooves essentially consist of two parts — a relatively soft and malleable interior surrounded by a hard shell. The exterior allows them to paw through rocks, ice and snow to dig up vegetation to consume, while the softer interior — which is more like a dog's paw, he said — molds itself to the contours of the steep, rocky mountainsides the animals traverse.

"That's why they're so agile and can jump from rock to rock," he said. "They can jump 7 feet vertically or horizontally."

A large ram pauses from his breakfast of arrowleaf balsamroot to survey his surroundings in this image from Chadd Drott's presentation on Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that will be delivered this week at the Farmington Public Library.

He said that while Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are far from being a threatened species — in fact, most Western states have a hunting season for bighorn sheep — that doesn't mean they don't face certain challenges to their survival, with disease being one of them.

"They can get a strain of pneumonia that it nearly 100% fatal," he said, explaining that there are efforts underway to develop a cure for the illness among Rocky Mountain bighorns. "If it goes unchecked, it tends to wipe out an entire herd."

Drott is a former firefighter who now leads regular tours of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado while also writing for wildlife reference guides, and producing educational videos and podcasts. He has devoted much of his life to working in wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers, along with improving his understanding and appreciation for wildlife.

A larger ram, left, tries to intimidate a smaller one in this image from a presentation on Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that will be presented this week by Chadd Drott at the Farmington Public Library.

"I think every species on the planet is important," he said. "Every species we lose threatens our species. Every animal is an important part of the ecosystem, and there's an important reason for every species to exist."

Drott will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 in the Multipurpose Room at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave. A question-and-answer session will follow, and Drott will be offering photographs for sale. Call 505-566-2210 or visit infoway.org.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.