Nine Peninsular bighorn lambs were documented last month in the northern Santa Rosa Mountains, according to the Palm Desert-based Bighorn Institute.
The first lamb, which was discovered Jan. 3, was born to a radio-collared ewe that is monitored by the Bighorn Institute -- a nonprofit that researches the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
“This is very exciting not only because the lambing season is underway, but also because this is the earliest we have ever documented a lamb being born,’’ the Big horn Institute wrote in its January newsletter.
Lambing season for the endangered bighorn sheep is normally January through June.
The bighorn sheep are an endangered species that require protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to Steve Harris, outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Management.
The species, which inhabit desert slopes from Palm Springs to Baja, Mexico, has been in decline because of disease and habitation loss because of development, according to the Bighorn Institute.
Pregnant female peninsular bighorns usually separate from other sheep before giving birth and remain alone with the lamb for a few days.
“After that, ewes with lambs group up for herd vigilance and convenience, allowing mothers to browse while other ewes watch the young lambs,’’ according to the organization.
During lambing season, bighorn sheep are “very vulnerable to human disturbance,’’ the Bighorn Institute wrote.
Because of this, Magnesia and Carrizo canyons have been closed to hikers.
“We hope all hikers respect the small inconvenience of these closures to help recover this endangered species,’’ the Institute said.
Magnesia Canyon is near the upper Bump and Grind Trail, which has been closed for more than a decade. Hikers have largely ignored the closure because of the trail's popularity.
A gate will be installed at the head of the upper trail later this month, according to Harris. Read more or watch a video about the gate closure .