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Kootenay National Park

Bighorn Sheep Ram #M645

Bighorn sheep ram M645
Ram #M645 with the radio collar he wore for 10 months in 2008.

In spring 2013 wildlife researchers marked the passing of a special member of the Radium Bighorn Sheep Herd. Ram #M645 gave us knowledge that will be used for years to come to protect his herd and others like it in Kootenay National Park.

What did we learn?

We encountered Ram #M645 when he was radio-collared on January 30th, 2008, as part of the Radium Bighorn Sheep study. The study ran from 2002-2009. Ram #M645 wore his radio-collar until November 17, 2008 and gave park biologists nearly 10 months of valuable data on his travels (2167 location points, up to 8 points per day). Ram #M645 helped to show us:

  1. Where sheep go to find critical habitat features, such as and mineral licks 
  2. Which migration routes and habitat types sheep use, and therefore should be protected and restored 
  3. How sheep have responded to our ongoing efforts to restore ecosystems in the area 
  4. Whether the Radium Bighorn Sheep Herd mixed with bighorn sheep herds to the south

Where are the migration routes?

In early summer of 2008, #M645 revealed what is likely a historical migration route used by generations of sheep to reach the ram summer range. We used that information to prioritize prescribed burning on Redstreak Mountain to maintain the open forest conditions that bighorn sheep need. This will help protect the migratory route running from Redstreak Campground, over Redstreak Mountain, to Kimpton Creek.

Where are the summer ranges?

This wasn’t the only summer range used by #M645 though. He was unusual* because he used two summer ranges – one south of highway 93S and one north of highway 93S – and moved between them by crossing highway 93S near Olive Lake in midsummer. Our road ecologist and highway planners can use this information to help reduce animal-vehicle collisions at this special spot on highway 93S.

Is habitat restoration working?

Ram #M645 also made quite heavy use of the Redstreak Restoration area. Of his 2167 location points, 182 were inside the restoration area. That means the restoration project is working, because sheep were rarely recorded within this area prior to the restoration treatments.

Routes travelled by Ram #M645 in July and August 2008
Routes travelled by Ram #M645 in July and August 2008

*Note that #M645 was one of several collared sheep to follow these routes - so his information isn't totally unique, but it makes a strong contribution to the overall picture of sheep migration routes in this herd.

What happened to Ram #M645?

In late March 2013, a member of the public reported a bighorn sheep carcass in the Redstreak area of Kootenay National Park, near Radium Village. Parks Canada staff investigated and found a heavily scavenged carcass. An intact ear tag was used to identify Ram #M645. He was estimated to be 6.5 years old at the time of capture in 2008, making him about 11.5 years old at the time of death. It was difficult to determine a cause, but cougar predation is suspected.

Ram #M645 lived a fairly long life for a wild sheep and changed how we understand sheep ecology and ecosystem restoration in Kootenay National Park. We are fortunate to live and work in places like these and to learn from animals like ram #M645. He lives on in the knowledge he gave us, and in the nourishment he provided for predators and other scavengers in his death.

Redstreak Restoration Area
Redstreak Restoration Area, March 2013.