Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
Bighorn sheep can be found in the Canadian Rockies, interior British Columbia and in the U.S.

Did you know?

The bighorn sheep can lose 20 to 25 percent of its body weight over the winter and gain it back again the following season.

Scientific name: Ovis canadensis
Average weight: 110 kg–130 kg (male)
53 kg–91 kg (female)
Average lifespan: 8-12 years (male)
10-15 years (female)
A bighorn sheep stands with a backdrop of blue Alberta sky.

Canadian Geographic articles

Big game of the mountain province

By I. McTaggart-Cowan
June 1952

In this article, the province is British Columbia and the “big game of the mountain” refers to several animals, such as deer, caribou, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and goats. Natural histories and habitats of the big game are covered, as are efforts for their conservation.

Some animals, such as the majestic bighorn sheep, were already losing precious habitat to humans. In some areas, the bighorn have dwindled, partly because of hunting and the damage by wolves and coyotes. However, game biologists are closely studying the bighorn and are confident that the sheep can not only maintain their existing population, but can restore it and even increase it.

The author also provides other interesting information about the big game of the mountain. Included are the four different types of sheep, such as the Dall (white sheep); different types of caribou, such as the Osborn (white-necked bulls); the fact that, in this case, the goats are not actually goats — they are one of the very select groups of goat-antelopes.

The article concludes with the fact that, in British Columbia, it is most impressively demonstrated that variety in the types of wildlife depends directly on the variety in habitat. Similarly, the survival of large game animals depends directly on human abstention from disturbance.

Sacrificial ram

By Sid Marty
November/December 2002

Frequent contributor and former park warden Sid Marty tackles the challenges facing bighorn sheep in “Sacrificial ram,” a cover feature. The article’s map insets show the greatly decreased range of the bighorn, and a plethora of colour photographs illustrates why the animal is so prized among big-game hunters.

The author gives an account of the sport of trophy hunting for ram horns, which reached a fever pitch in the early 1950s. Wealthy grand-slam hunters, trying to prove their superiority as sheep hunters, had to shoot a trophy from each of the main types of wild sheep, including the Rocky Mountain bighorn. Trophy hunting still goes on, but as the article states, the value of a world-class bighorn ram has since risen tremendously. In the meantime, the wardens and officers try to uphold the law, while the hunters try to get a legal trophy.

The article also explores the trend for wildlife officers in Alberta to auction special hunting permits to raise money for research and wildlife conservation. Alberta is just one of the many governments, from Arizona to Mongolia, that auction off trophy animals for big bucks. With the “Minister’s Hunt”, the bighorn has become Alberta’s sacrificial ram, offered up every year at the altars of privatization.

In Alberta, 85 percent of the money raised in the hunts goes to the conservation of wildlife in general. Also, money from the trophy auctions now finances wildlife research that the government is no longer willing to fund with tax dollars. This article documents how government biologists increasingly must appeal to private charities for research funding.  

Of all the animals that hunters want to conserve in the face of an ever-diminishing habitat, none is more prized than the trophy bighorn ram. In 1982, an epidemic of disease, likely introduced by a strain of pasturella virus in domestic sheep in British Columbia, decimated the population. Hunter-conservationist groups in the Rockies have since purchased hundreds of hectares as wildlife habitat for the remaining bighorn sheep and other wildlife.

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