The story of the Golden herd of bighorn sheep is an interesting look at survival of wildlife that coexist with a major freeway, in close proximity to a town, and live in a relatively small and extremely rugged area.
Wildsight Golden is interested in using non-invasive methods to learn as much as possible about what factors are keeping the number of sheep low while encouraging locals and tourists to learn more about wildlife by sharing locations of sighting using a smart phone.
Although one might not expect to see Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in the Kicking Horse Canyon, this unique herd has resided there since at least 1986. Where they came from is not known for certain but sightings in the Blaeberry and north indicate that they came over from Alberta. Bighorn sheep prefer to eat grass and are relatively common on the east side of the Rockies where the open spaces are larger, but access to escape is nearby. The closest other herd to Golden lives in the Radium area and are often seen from Highway 95.
Since 2016, sheep locations and group composition have been recorded frequently by observations from dedicated trips to the 5-mile Bridge and back to Golden. This has allowed for accurate knowledge of the herd size, which was 16 in 2016 and is now 12. With the widening of the highway, these animals could face additional stress and decline in number.
Limiting factors can impact the growth of all living things. For the sheep these might include predation, highway mortality, poaching, inbreeding, poor diet, high stress levels, insufficient area, insufficient mineral licks, etc. Fecal material can be used to learn about the health of bighorn sheep. The indicators Wildsight Golden will look at include inbreeding, parasites, pregnancy, stress hormones, and nutritional requirement levels. Wildsight Golden knows that the herd has only had one offspring survive annually for the last two years and are hopeful for better success this year. So far, three new lambs have been seen.
In hopes of helping this herd of sheep survive, Wildsight Golden has begun the Golden Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep project.
The organization needs volunteers to share wildlife sightings. So many people drive the roads and see wildlife. Sharing what they see can help Wildsight Golden know where animals are and where they cross the roads so that efforts can be made to reduce wildlife mortality in these area, especially with the upcoming highway construction and traffic diversions through Radium. Volunteers can learn to recognize different ungulates (animals with hooves) and share locations using a smart phone.
A free application, called “maps.me,” easily allows for locations to be shared by email. Send locations via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be added to a database.
For more information on the project go to www.wildsight.ca/goldensheep.