Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dall Sheep in Alaska

© Michael Jones / Alaska Stock

Alaska is home to some of the most prized big game wildlife - Grizzly, Caribou, Moose are among the most well known. However, the Dall Sheep is probably one of the most predictably visible animals. At Alaska Stock Images, you will find a wide variety of Alaska photos including Dall Sheep photos. To find more pictures of Alaska or photos of Dall Sheep, visit our search page.

Dall Sheep are found throughout a large portion of Alaska's mountain ranges. Perhaps the most obvious area is along the Turnagain Arm near Anchorage. With green meadows for resting, and ridges and rocky bluffs for "protection," a group of Dall Sheep spend their summer season near the Seward Highway. Tourists and locals alike often enjoy watching (viewing tips) the sheep as they assuredly make their way around the bluffs.

Both the male "rams" and female "ewes" have curling horns. However, at about the age of three, the male's horns begin to take on more of the classic curl and build mass and length while the female horns remain relatively small. The sheep's horns grow significantly in the summer and then cease during the winter months. This start and stop trait causes "annuli" which is the ridges or rings that appear on a sheep's horn. Somewhat like a tree, you count the annuli and determine the age of a sheep. At a glance you can approximate a ram's age by observing the progress of the horn's "curl." At about three years, they have a half a circle, by five they generally have three-quarters of a circle, and by eight years, they have a full circle or a full "curl." Dall sheep have been known to live to 16 years of age, but more typically, 12 years is considered old. Females have a slightly longer lifespan.

Ewes give birth to lambs in May or early June. The ewes then seek the protection of the rockiest cliffs and bluffs for protection against predators. Ewes only produce a single lamb but do so annually. The days following birth, the ewe will remain with the lamb on the cliffs until it is strong enough to travel. The ewe and lamb remain together until about October when the lambs are weaned. Rams form their own clique or "band" during most of the year and only are found with the ewes in November and December during mating season. Rams are famous for their horn clashing battles.

Seen through media as the ultimate in the contest of will, the rams compete for the "pecking order" within the band of males. Surprisingly, the battle can also occur between females. Although these battles can happen at any time throughout the year, they occur more frequently as the rut approaches- not because they compete for the females, but because the rams are on the move and will run into other bands of sheep and compete to establish the order of dominance.

As the Dall Sheep move from range to range and the season change, their diet fluctuates. During summer months and food s abundant, the sheep consume a wide variety of grass and plants. However, as summer fades and winter takes over, the sheep begin feeding on frozen grasses and sedge stems. Lichen and moss are also known consumed during the leanest months. Mineral licks are popular grounds for all sheep and rams, ewes, and different bands will all congregate in these areas to partake of the minerals found in the soil.

The population of Dall Sheep in Alaska is considered abundant and healthy. In fact, the Dall Sheep is one of the more successful animals in Alaska largely due to the habitat of living in the remote cliffs and bluffs of mountain ranges that are generally unsuitable for humans. However as population increases and more people do find their way into the back country alpine areas, conflict is sure arise. As with most wildlife, it will only be with careful education and stewardship that will allow the Dall Sheep to continue to thrive.

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