Busy Times & Hungry Critters in Care

Busy Times & Hungry Critters in Care

Busy Times & Hungry Critters in Care

This story was originally published July 10 2021 in the e-blast newsletter to Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s membership.

Are you a member but don’t receive these email Newsletters?  Contact us at info@yukonwildlife.ca to update your email preferences.

Mew Gull x2

Location found – Downtown.

Admitted on June 15th after the nest was lost. Conservation Officers brought the animals to the Preserve.

This pair are in an outdoor aviary where they are growing fast and eat mice 3 times a day.

• • •

Juvenile Mew Gull with Wing Injury

Also found downtown but admitted more recently on July 7th. This individual has fractures to its right wing and a large hematoma but depsite its injuries is in good body and remains active and alert. 

The animal is on low dose medication for pain and inflammation and the wing is immobilized. It remains under observation before it will move in with the other gulls outside. 

• • •

Boreal Owl

Admitted June 28th, this tiniest of Yukon owls was rescued from an attack by a domestic dog. While the animal came in with mild ataxia (lack of coordination) it’s doing relatively well. It’s missing primary and secondary feathers on both wings but with time and regular mice feedings twice a day the owl should be a good candidate for release when ready.

• • •

Juvenile Northern Flicker

Location found – Takhini Hot Springs Rd area. 

Admitted on June 27th after the young animal fell out of its nest and was at risk of predation. 

Plan for recovery and release with time and lots of mealworm feedings throughout the day and small mice.

• • •

Coyote Pups

2 male coyote pups, about 6 – 8 weeks old, were admitted to the Rehabilitation Centre on July 5th after they were found, suspected to be orphaned, in the Marsh Lake area by members of the public. 

The pups eat 3 times a day and their appetites are growing. Along with a puppy formula, every feeding they consume 4 mice and 2 whole quail each. 

• • •

Each of these animals face challenging times ahead but the Wildlife Preserve Animal Care Team, including Veterinarian, Dr. Maria Hallock, are working 7 days a week, near 20 hours a day to ensure each of these animals are given the best possible chance for recovery and release back into the wild. 

We could use your support to aid in these animal’s recovery – please consider donating. Help us keep Yukon wild at heart ♥

• • •

Lindsay Caskenette

Lindsay Caskenette

Manager of Visitor Services

Lindsay joined the Wildlife Preserve team March 2014. Originally from Ontario, she came to the Yukon in search of new adventures and new career challenges. Lindsay holds a degree in Environmental Studies with honours from Wilfrid Laurier University and brings with her a strong passion to share what nature, animals and the environment can teach us.

867-456-7400
lindsay@yukonwildlife.ca

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Love for the Lynx

Love for the Lynx

Love for the Lynx

This story was originally published February 13, 2021 in the e-blast newsletter to Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s membership.

Are you a member but don’t receive these email Newsletters?  Contact us at info@yukonwildlife.ca to update your email preferences.

While the ungulates have already gone through their languages of love the carnivores are just getting started!

It’s a great time to hear the courtship calls from the lynx, arctic fox and red foxes. While the two species of foxes are the same gender (red foxes – males, arctic foxes – females), our lynx group consists of a male and two females and all three lynx will remain in the habitat together this season.

In past years we have separated the male to eliminate breeding potential – an important practice to manage our animal collection and animal numbers. This year however the lynx will be left together to let nature take its course!

Our 3-legged male has never bred before nor has our younger female, who turns 7 this spring, so we do not have any history to give indication of sexual success. Our other female, who is now 13 years old, has successfully reared offspring in her younger days – most recently in 2014. If breeding is successful we could expect kittens in mid – late May. YWP collection growth and stability is a consideration for breeding given the age of our male, also 13 years. Further to that, BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, a CAZA accredited facility, will also look to add to their population by accepting a litter of siblings. This potential breeding will be an important contribution to lynx genetics and the Species Survival Plan given how unique (completely unrepresented actually), his genetics are among captive populations.

It’s all up to the animals and only time will tell if these individuals are successful.

Lynx at Yukon Wildlife Preserve L to R:  3-legged male circa 2018 and kitten circa 2014.

All Photos credit:  Jake Paleczny

Lindsay Caskenette

Lindsay Caskenette

Manager of Visitor Services

Lindsay joined the Wildlife Preserve team March 2014. Originally from Ontario, she came to the Yukon in search of new adventures and new career challenges. Lindsay holds a degree in Environmental Studies with honours from Wilfrid Laurier University and brings with her a strong passion to share what nature, animals and the environment can teach us.

867-456-7400
lindsay@yukonwildlife.ca

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Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

Leaps and Bounds “Winter is Here”-Lynx

9 minute read – “Winter Is Here” series continues with the elusive enigma – Lynx!

I, for one, love winter. What a unique time of year it is to be able to get outside in the short but cherished sunlight hours or total darkness for a hike, ski, or skate, then get inside and warm up by a fire. Of course Yukon’s wildlife call the outdoors their home but don’t worry they are just fine outside.

With those view-blocking leaves off the trees and the snow piled high, the Preserve’s most elusive resident – the lynx, becomes ever so slightly easier to spot in their habitat.

The lynx is one of Yukon’s only cat species other than the even more secretive cougar.1Government of Yukon. 2021. Cougar. https://yukon.ca/en/cougar  Lynx can be found in the boreal forest right across Yukon, Alaska, and still occupy roughly 95% of their historic range in Canada.2Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376.  Here in the subarctic boreal forest lynx have adapted to thrive in even the coldest, harshest winters Yukon could throw at them, while also keeping up with their favourite prey: the snowshoe hare.

Lynx almost exclusively prey on snowshoe hares during the winter months, as hares make up anywhere from 75-90% of a lynx’s diet on average.3Ivan, J.S., & Shenk, T.M. 2016. Winter diet and hunting success of Canada lynx in Colorado. The Journal of Wildlife Management 80(6): 1049-1058.In the summer and when hare populations are low, lynx will turn to other small animals like red squirrels, mice, and ptarmigan4Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376., but those hares are by far the preferred ones to catch. So much so that the number of lynx there are in an area depends on the number of hares.5Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. This is one of the most well recorded examples of a predator-prey interaction dating back to the mid-1800’s.6MacLulich, D.A. 1937. Fluctuations in the numbers of the varying hare (Lepus americanus). University of Toronto Studies Biological Series 43. University of Toronto Press, Toronto

Figure 1. Population cycles of lynx and snowshoe hare over a 90-year period from the fur-trapping records of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Figure based on data from MacLulich (1937) and Elton and Nicholson (1942)

Snowshoe hare populations are cyclic: they peak about every ten years then crash shortly thereafter. Lynx follow this pattern lagging about 1-2 years behind the hares.74. Boutin, S., et al. 1995. Population changes of the vertebrate community during a snowshoe hare cycle in Canada’s boreal forest. Oikox 74: 69-80. 8MacLulich, D.A. 1937. Fluctuations in the numbers of the varying hare (Lepus americanus). University of Toronto Studies Biological Series 43. University of Toronto Press, Toronto  Hares are rich in nutrients providing lynx with the necessary energy and fat reserves needed to survive the long, cold winters. When hare populations are booming, lynx have better survival rates and females can support more kittens to adulthood. An abundance of food and high reproduction rates increases the lynx’s population density to 30-45 lynx/100 km2 , but once the hare numbers decline, that lynx population density drops down to just 2 lynx/100 km2 in the same region.9Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376.

To keep up with the snowshoe hare – a specialist of the subarctic and arctic ecoregions, lynx have to survive and thrive alongside them in these colder lands.

Another great thing about winter is that the snow is a great record keeper of all the different critters that have wandered through an area. Keep an eye out for rounded paw prints indicative of the lynx. Compared to their body size, lynx have huge paws and can spread their fur-covered toes apart making the surface area even larger. Just like a pair of snowshoes on our feet, these giant paws help the lynx walk on top of packed snow. Along with their long legs these cats can wade through soft, deep snow with ease and use their larger back legs to help power big leaps either up trees or when bounding to catch up to a hare.10Murray, D.L., & Boutin, S. 1991. The influence of snow on lynx and coyote movements: does morphology affect behavior? Oecologia 88(4): 463-469.

Lynx can be found across Yukon in the boreal forest, but the slight difference of how open or dense that forest is will change how the lynx behaves while hunting. If lynx are in more open areas with less vegetation on the ground to hide in, their tactic is to chase hares. However, this method is not very successful since lynx cannot keep pace with hares over long distances.11Murray, D.L., Boutin, S., O’Donoghue, M., & Nams, V.O. 1995. Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetation cover. Animal Behavior 50: 1203-1210.  More often lynx are ambush hunters, lying in wait in bed-sites along well-used hare trails until the prey comes close.12Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. To be successful, lynx prefer old growth forests with an abundance of spruce and pine cover along with fallen trees and dense vegetation to hide in.13Murray, D.L., Boutin, S., O’Donoghue, M., & Nams, V.O. 1995. Hunting behaviour of a sympatric felid and canid in relation to vegetation cover. Animal Behavior 50: 1203-1210. This tactic of staying still and ambushing unsuspecting prey not only provides more energy rich food for the lynx, it also allows them to conserve precious energy needed to keep their body temperatures warm during the winter.

When you’re staying still, having a warm coat on also helps you to retain heat against the cold winter air. Lynx have a very thick winter coat made up of a fluffy underfur that traps air against the skin creating an insulating barrier. The soft underfur is covered in coarse guard hairs that function as a waterproofing layer preventing snow and ice from reaching the skin underneath, just like how our waterproof, puffy winter coats function. Lynx’s winter coats are a light grey colour, mottled with those guard hairs that break up the cat’s outline allowing them to blend in to the grey and white forest background. In contrast, the summer coat is shorter with more reddish brown in colour; again allowing the cats to sneak around the forest undetected.14Vaughan, T.A., Ryan, J.M., & Czaplewski, N.J. (2015). Mammalogy. (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Lynx are considered to be almost entirely solitary animals especially in the heart of winter after that year’s kittens have dispersed from the den. Adult lynx usually only pair up for a brief time in late February or March for the breeding season then separate again.15Poole, K.G. 2003. A review of the Canada lynx, lynx canadensis, in Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 117(3): 360-376. However, new radio-collar data out of Kluane National Park shows lynx pairing up and eating the same kill together; behaviours that indicate these cats may be more social than previously thought, at least in the Kluane region.16Morin, P. (2020, December 29). Not so solitary: Lynx links surprise scientists. Retrieved from: cbc.ca/news/canada/north/not-solitary-lynx-links-surprise-scientists-1.5854543. This is fascinating new data that right now really leaves us with more questions than answers. Have lynx always been more social than we thought and we just didn’t notice or is this new behaviour in response to change? Currently, we are in a period of low snowshoe hare populations and declining lynx numbers17Krebs., C.J., et al. (2020). The Community Ecological Monitoring Program annual data report 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~krebs/downloads/kluane_annual_report_2019.pdf. so perhaps this is evidence of cooperation either between relatives like parents and offspring or siblings, or between unrelated individuals in order to survive.18Morin, P. (2020, December 29). Not so solitary: Lynx links surprise scientists. Retrieved from: cbc.ca/news/canada/north/not-solitary-lynx-links-surprise-scientists-1.5854543.

 Lynx are a truly remarkable species and being so elusive, we continue to uncover new things about them and their behaviour.

Winter continues on here in the Yukon but it really is the best season to bundle up and get outside for your chance to spot a lynx sneaking through the bare trees or even just their round, furry prints travelling on top of the snow. If you are lucky enough to spot a lynx either out in the wild or right here at the Preserve (there are three of them) take note of their winter adaptations: large paws, long legs, thick fur coat covering their entire body, and stealthy behaviour; all traits that make them such successful felines of the north!

All Lynx photos credit to L. Caskenette

Rebecca Carter

Rebecca Carter

Visitor Services Coordinator

Rebecca joined the Wildlife Preserve in the summer of 2020 after moving from Manitoba to the beautiful and wild Yukon. Rebecca earned a degree in Biology with honours from the University of Winnipeg studying behaviour in mule deer (one of her top 20 favourite animals.. it’s hard to choose!). She loves connecting with others through nature and sharing stories and knowledge about the animals at the preserve with visitors.

867-456-7400
rebecca@yukonwildlife.ca

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A Beginner’s Guide to iNaturalist:

A Beginner’s Guide to iNaturalist:

A Beginner’s Guide to iNaturalist:

This article was made possible thanks to support from the Environmental Awareness Fund. Engage and educate yourself in this 10-part blog series, about Yukon Biodiversity.

5 minute Read and 8:58 minute Video

How to explore the biodiversity in your own backyard:

Hey there! Are you feeling isolated (and who isn’t in this remote territory, during this plague year, in the cold months)? Would you like to connect to nature? Have you considered iNaturalist? It’s a groovy app available on your phone or computer and it’s essentially an encyclopedia to the wide variety of living organisms in your local area and across the globe.

If you’re new to the app, let me give you the basics. First, go outside. Catch some of the fleeting winter sun, take in some fresh air, and observe your surroundings. Next, spot an interesting organism (plant, animal, bug, algae, etc.) and take a nice, full frame photo of it and upload it to the iNaturalist app. Congratulations! You are now an observer and this thing you have photographed is the first of your (many) observations.
Once you have a photo uploaded, it’s time to build a profile for your observation. Tell us what species you photographed, the date the photo was taken, and where it was located. Not sure what you took a photo of? Not a problem. If you take a peek at the screenshot below, you can see a handy dandy drop-down menu that shows up when you click on the species field and suggests, based on your photo, what species you might have photographed. As you can see, the top suggestion for my photo of dwarf fireweed was… dwarf fireweed! What! WITCHCRAFT (which is code for programming I am both impressed by and don’t understand).

iNaturalist – once you upload your photo you can use the drop down photo suggestion prompt to help identify what in fact you are looking at!

If the dark magic of the iNaturalist app suggested species list doesn’t give you a likely answer, someone else can. This is where the identifiers come into play. The iNaturalist community plays host to specialists and seasoned outdoors enthusiasts whose expertise can put a name to the mystery organisms in your photos.
But wait, it’s winter. The insects are dead or dreaming, the fish are under a sizeable roof of ice, and the foliage is exceptionally non-existent. This is all true but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of biodiversity discoveries you can make in the snowy months, far from it in fact. The bird populations in the Yukon change significantly from season to season; the water birds may be gone but the bohemian waxwings are lovely this time of year. We’re also experiencing a rare bird event this winter with the appearance of Steller’s jays. The Steller’s jay is the provincial bird of British Columbia and has only been noted en-masse in the territory twice before this: in 2006 and 1994. This showy blue-black corvid would make a charming addition to your list of iNaturalist observations.

A steller’s jay observed in Carcross, Yukon. Photo Credit Cameron Eckert iNaturalist

But wait, there’s more. Act now and you can take advantage of one of the finest animal observing methods gifted to you by winter: animal tracks. Sure, you can spot footprints in mud during the warmer months but the winter offers an endless white canvas for animal feet. Yes, you can also upload photos of animal footprints. Not only do you get to identify the beasties wandering through your neighbourhood but you also learn to identify them even when they aren’t there. That’s some Sherlock level business.

If you don’t feel like meandering outside (and as we move into the colder days, who could blame you), you can check out your local biodiversity from the comfort of your own home. Remember how you enter the location of your observations? That means all observations are placed in a map that lets you check which organisms have been observed in your area or in the destination of your choice.

All the observations in a given region can be seen from a map view. You can then click on each instance to learn more about the obeservation.

Not interested in your home range? No problem, check in on the gibbon observations in Asia, gaze upon the Macaw palm of South America. The iNaturalist map is a wonderful worldwide experience in biodiversity. You can peruse different species in far-ranging areas based on your interests. iNaturalist lets you check out the organisms based on category (frog, insect, flower, etc.), status (wild, threatened, introduced, needs ID, etc.), and date of observation. Mix it up, check it out, and find something new.

Explore iNaturalist through various categories including species, status, and date of observation. 

The iNaturalist app is an approachable means of connecting professionals and the public for the benefit of biodiversity research. The annual Bioblitzes are a great example of this. A Bioblitz is used to determine the health and diversity of an ecosystem by bringing together the local community of both specialists and the enthusiastic public to observe and record as many species as possible in a limited area within an equally limited timeframe to create a “snapshot” of the living things in a specific region. Outside of general curiosity, the data from a Bioblitz can inform decisions about wildlife management and future research.
The 2020 Yukon Bioblitz was held at our very own Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the short span of July 8-10 2020. Not to brag, but the Wildlife Preserve is a great local for a Bioblitz because it’s composed of a diverse array of habitats including forests, meadows, and wetlands which in turn host a variety of plant, animal, and fungi species. Unfortunately, the intentional residents of the Wildlife Preserve were not included in the Bioblitz observations. It would be very impressive to add a muskox or a lynx to your iNaturalist observation repertoire but if they’re full-time residents of the Wildlife Preserve, they’re not necessarily representative of the type or amount of these species that would be present in this area. Alas.

Over the three days of the 2020 Bioblitz, a horde of experts (like Dan Peach – mosquito man) and the public (including me) descended upon the Wildlife Preserve to document every and any species they came across. Even without the residents of the Wildlife Preserve, there were over 400 species recorded during the Bioblitz. That’s a lot! For a little perspective, this count includes:

The Count List
  • 2 species of algae
  • 1 amphibian
  • 22 species of beetle
  • 62 bird species
  • 12 species of moss
  • 1 centipede
  • 18 species of flies
  • 57 species of fungi and lichens
  • 11 species of true bugs
  • 31 species of bees, wasps, ants
  • 18 species of butterflies and moths
  • 8 mammal species
  • 7 species of snails
  • 11 species of dragonflies
  • 1 grasshopper
  • 1 pot worm
  • 8 spider species
  • 182 species of vascular plants
  • And a partridge in a pear tree
  • (Just kidding, partridges aren’t indigenous to the Yukon.)
  • (And neither are pear trees.)
For the full species list and the distribution map, check it out here!

The Bioblitz provides a snapshot of what’s present in the territory but there are 482,443 km² of territory to explore. Imagine what else you could find. Get out there, observe, record, and have a good time!

Video shot and edited by Jake Paleczny.

Joelle Ingram

Joelle Ingram

Human of Many Talents

Joelle is a former archaeologist, former wildlife interpreter, and a full-time random fact enthusiast. She received her master’s degree in anthropology from McMaster University. One of the four people who read her thesis gave it the glowing review “It’s a paper that would appeal to very specific group of people,” which is probably why only four people have read it. Her favourite land mammal is a muskox, her favourite aquatic mammal is a narwhal. She thinks it’s important that you know that.

867-456-7400
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

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Thinhorn Mountain Sheep

Thinhorn Mountain Sheep

Thinhorn Mountain Sheep

10 minute read –
For a long time, it was believed that there are three distinct subspecies of thinhorn Mountain Sheep in North America each of these known as: Dall, Fannin and Stone. Each subspecies displayed different colouring of their coats where Dall would be pure white, Fannin would be white with grey, silver and black highlights and Stone sheep were white with brown and black highlights and sometimes predominantly all dark grey.

Thinhorn Mountain Sheep grow one set of horns from youth to old age.  Pictured are two rams (males).  L to R:  Young ram; mature ram.

Recent DNA gathering and analysis has revealed that all three subspecies are actually very much alike and identification of each subspecies is becoming significantly more difficult to confirm as interbreeding continues and identifiable traits or genetic markers blend together to produce a mongrelized modern day specimen.

Further, evolutionary biologists1https://www.ualberta.ca/science/news/2016/june/dna-analysis-rewrites-the-story-of-thinhorn-sheep-during-the-last-ice-age.html studying the lineages of thinhorn sheep have found evidence suggesting that the species diverged hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. Greatly influenced by the formation, movement and final melting of the glaciers, thinhorn sheep roamed a vast area in search of ice-free grazing areas known as refugia. The mountainous geography often separated groups of similar or same subspecies sheep where through isolation they accumulated some variances between populations over time, sometimes resulting in the formation of what were originally thought to be new subspecies due to variations of their physical appearance.

Genetic science continues to study these animals and new proofs are foreseen to reveal how the present thinhorn sheep populations of the Yukon, BC and Alaska evolved to be what they are today. As genetic scientists work with data gathered by paleontologists, geologists and other scientific disciplines, there is anticipated to be a more accurate understanding of how northern animals evolved into what they are today.

Despite their uniqueness in genes and variations in colour, thinhorn sheep rams share the same impressive set of horns that are admired in the animal kingdom. It is important to note that horns and antlers are not the same. Members of the deer family grow antlers which are shed and grow back each year, while sheep grow horns which are with the animal for all of its life. Also antlers grow from the tips while horns grow from the base.2https://medium.com/usfws/11-facts-about-antlers-18e689fe9e60#:~:text=Bison%2C%20antelopes%2C%20sheep%2C%20goats%20and%20domestic%20cattle%20%E2%80%94,from%20the%20tip%3B%20horns%20grow%20from%20the%20base  It’s a minor thing, but important because if a young sheep breaks off a tip of their horn, it will remain that way for the rest of its life. Female sheep or ewes also grow horns but these are much more diminutive than the male sheeps’ horns.

​ Female sheep or ewes also grow horns but these are much more diminutive than the male sheeps’ horns.

Sheep start to grow their horns shortly after birth and they will continue to grow over their lifespan, sometimes up to 20 years of age.3http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/thinhorn.pdf If you look closely at a ram’s horns you’ll see rings that circle the horn in various locations. These are called growth rings or annuli rings and a new one is formed each year and they are a reliable method to estimate the age of the animal. The horns are made of keratin, which is the same hard material that their hooves are made of and it grows quickly.

The first few inches of horn that a ram grows is called a lamb tip and represents about the first 6 months of the animal’s life,4https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/hunting/dallsheephunting/pdfs/dall_sheep_guide_to_judging_sheep_horns_under_full_curl_regulation.pdf it often gets broken off as the ram’s life of fighting and careless use take their toll.

Credit Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Each year a new annuli ring is formed near the base due to stressors the ram experiences, normally associated with the mating season.  You may notice that the space between the annuli rings is not uniform. This reflects the quality of nutrition that the animal experienced during that year of his life. Large wide spaces between the rings indicate good nutritional intake and low stress. Small thinner spaces may indicate a stressful year or a reduction in nourishment possibly associated with long, hard winters, forest fires and a loss of grazing, avoiding predators and similar stressors found in nature. Once the ram reaches a certain age of maturity, at about eight years,5https://www.coniferousforest.com/dall-sheep.htm the horns will continue filling out in thickness and mass, but stop growing longer as time goes on. A mature ram’s horns can weigh up to 15 kilos – more than all the bones in his body combined.
The size and shape of ram’s horns are what distinguish it from others and there is a wide variety of shapes, formations and sizes among sheep horns. Some horns form concise symmetric circles that are located close to the animal’s head, while others grow into a cork-screw-like shape where the tips are splayed out from the ram’s head. Some rams have horns that are thicker and longer than others, this is normally associated to a genetic trait of the animal’s ancestors where the influencing genes get passed to subsequent generations.
Hunting organizations such as Boone & Crockette have devised an elaborate measuring system with which to score the horns of most big game animals. The horns are measured at specific locations including the base, the overall length of the horn on each side, the distance between the horn tips and diameters of the horn in four key places. Once these measurements are collected some math is performed to arrive at the score for that ram’s horns. Records are kept by species so that hunters know how their harvested ram compares to others. This record keeping is also valuable for biologists and others to track the various changes in sheep populations around the world and may indicate declines in health, and their supporting environment and other influences which may be indicated by the changing size or condition of their horns.

Regional governments also utilize hunters to gather important data from the field. This is usually done by making it mandatory that certain parts of the harvested animal are submitted to the Game Branch as a condition of the species harvest tag. In this way biologists get to examine a diversity of a certain species all harvested within a quantified period of time and noted locations. Biologists examining sheep submissions here in the Yukon check for a number of important indicators. Yukon regulations require the complete head of a harvested ram be submitted for inspection.6https://yukon.ca/sites/yukon.ca/files/env/env-yukon-hunting-regulations-summary_en.pdf]]

The first thing they examine is if the horns are indeed a full curl as regulations prohibit harvesting a ram that is less than a full curl.

The biologists then extract a tooth to confirm the exact age of the animal by cutting the top off and counting the rings similar to the dendral or age rings of a tree. They may also take a tissue or blood sample to test for various diseases and infections the animals may suffer from. When all the tests have been completed the biologist bores a small hole in the top side of the horn facing the rear and epoxies a serialized aluminum plug into it. These plugs help to combat the underground trade of animal heads by having each head recorded by hunter, date and location.

Having access to all this data helps biologists to better understand the health of the wild sheep herds and may provide clues on where a disease is developing and which way it may be moving geographically.

Photo Credit: Kevin Pepper

Photo Credit: Kevin Pepper

Rams are famous for bashing their horns together to determine which is dominant for breeding purposes, but that is only for a few days each breeding season typically in late November and December. They also use their horns to communicate among themselves in ways that humans can only guess at. They will sometimes interlace their horns gently and rub their ears together which appears to be a welcoming gesture. Like most creatures, mountain sheep use body language to communicate with others. It may be a twisting of the head or extending their noses while they peel their lips back to reveal their teeth, or something as simple as their stance and how they wiggle their ears as they stare at others from a distance. They often grunt at each other as well.

Rams will often gently head-butt  each other as a form of greeting, similar to how a house cat bumps your leg when seeking attention. They can be quite gentle in their horn touching activities or they will get up on their hind legs and really lean into butting another ram with all the force they can muster.

Photo Credit Mark Newman

Photo Credit: Mark Newman

With remarkable muscle tone, balance and coordination mountain sheep demonstrate how well they have adapted to living on rock faces as they frolic and cavort in situations humans try to avoid. Often it will take a human significantly longer to cover a vertical climb it only took a few seconds for the sheep to navigate. Mountain sheep are remarkably strong and have endurance that allows them the energy and stamina to evade predators such as wolves and bears on the uneven and precarious mountain slopes they call home. Young lambs are a popular target for migrating Golden Eagles arriving in the spring season from their over-winter habitats. So sheep must be watching in all directions for potential dangers that could impact on them or their offspring.

Young lambs are a popular target for migrating Golden Eagles.  Ewes must be watching in all directions for potential dangers that could impact them or their offspring.

Mountain sheep have superior eyesight for distance and low-light conditions, they have horizontal pupils that help them to see panoramically to detect predators that could approach from different directions.  They also need to be able to see forward clearly so that they can run over rough terrain. They have excellent peripheral vision and can see behind themselves without turning their heads due to where their eyes are located on their skulls. Remember they need to look around their horns too.

Thinhorn Mountain Sheep are remarkable creatures perfectly adapted to thrive on the mountains of Northwestern Canada and Alaska and will remain a featured megafauna species here at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Ram follows an Ewe closely.

Doug Caldwell

Doug Caldwell

Wildlife Interpreter

Doug is one of the Interpretive Wildlife Guides here at the Preserve. An avid angler and hunter he has a broad knowledge of Yukon’s wilderness and the creatures that live here. With a focus on the young visitors to the Preserve, Doug takes the extra time to help our guests to better appreciate the many wonders of the animal kingdom here in the Yukon.

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