We studied sympatric populations of native bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and feral horses (Equus caballus) to quantify their spatial and temporal overlap and to determine whether horses interfered with use of water by bighorn sheep. We observed no evidence of direct competition, but our field experiment, which involved placing desert-acclimated domestic horses near watering sites used by bighorn sheep, demonstrated that bighorn sheep avoided sites with horses nearby. The presence of domestic horses near a watering site preferred by bighorn sheep resulted in a 76% reduction in the number of groups of bighorn sheep coming to water at that location and a concomitant increase in the number of bighorn sheep watering at other sites. An experimental approach to studying competition between large mammals has been problematic and to our knowledge this study constitutes the 1st manipulative field experiment to test for competitive interactions between feral horses and native ungulates.
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