Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dall Sheep, Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska 2014 continued:

As we bounced along the road on a Denali National Park shuttle bus, we were on the lookout for wildlife. The bus was not overly crowed, which was really nice because I could move from one side to the other depending on where the critters were. One of the first things we saw was a small herd of Dall sheep on a hillside very near the road. Our driver stopped and we lingered for a while, watching the goings on.

It was June so there were, of course, babies.

Young Dall sheep..

They were a little rough looking, in the process of shedding their winter coats. I didn't mind--I'd never seen a Dall sheep and I was thrilled to get such close looks!

I initially thought this was a young male, but that didn't make sense after reading that the males hang out in groups with other males, and are only with the females at mating season. My assumption then is that this is a lactating female.

Scratching an itch.

The little ones are awfully cute!

Both sexes of Dall sheep have horns, though it's only the male's that curl around. It takes about seven years for the horns to fully curl, at which time the rams begin to compete with each other for mating rights.

As we drove along the road we came across a pair of rams as they moved down the slope to a shrub right next to us.

I had to switch lenses we were so close. It was hard not to squeal with delight.

A pair of rams munching on a shrub.

Evidently this is the only population of Dall sheep that is not hunted, and that still lives with large predators, so biologists study them pretty extensively. I also read that the park was established, back in 1917, to protect them from hunting, but I haven't been able to verify that.

Unlike antlers, which are shed each year, horns are permanent, and grow throughout the life of the ram. Ewe's horns stop growing after a couple years, and do not curl like the ram's.

This magnificent fellow paused on the hillside for several great shots. I expect he will be a new art piece somewhere down the road.

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