On my drive to work most mornings I laugh at the guys on the radio playing a game called, You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. They go back and forth seeing if the other guy knows the fact that is presented.
In the Yukon we have an amazing population of thin horn sheep. Dall sheep cover most of the territory and there are smaller but just as healthy populations of stone and fannin sheep.
The difference between them is coloring.
Dall sheep are white, where stones and fannin have grey or brown covering some or most of their body.
In some cases not knowing the difference is just fine, but over the past few decades, “we didn’t know” has become a problem for our wild sheep population.
It seems to most people that domestic sheep and wild sheep are one in the same. In some ways yes, they are part of the same species, but like the indigenous people of North America, different diseases can have different affects on different populations. Ailments like smallpox and measles killed off many indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, they did make settlers sick, but most survived.
It is becoming common practice for landowners to raise sheep to help with weed control instead of using pesticides, also adding variety to the livestock in their farms; they do quite well in most climates.
Unknown to some farmers and land owners, domestic sheep can carry a virus (Mannheimia haemolytica) that, like the settlers of North America, causes no serious harm to them, but when a wild sheep decides to jump the fence to check out its distant cousin, they may leave with a dreadful surprise.
Like most domestic animals we give sheep antibodies to help fight what ever ails them. Unfortunately wild animals don’t receive the same treatment, and it is believed that a large decline in the bighorn sheep population is due to pneumonia that spread from domestic sheep.
In our Northern, less farmed and less habituated lands, we haven’t seen this yet. That does not mean it is far off. Yukoners do have domestic sheep and there has been at least one confirmed instance where a dall sheep jumped into a pen of domestic sheep. As proven by our southern counterparts, this can become a very serious issue.
In order to help keep our wildlife free of this disease, we have to recognize the risks and do what we can to keep the two from coming in direct contact. This may be simple in places where sheep do not normally live, but where the farm and the hillside are one it may require a little more diligence.
With more than 10,000 thin horn sheep in the territory we are very fortunate to have few unnatural threats like disease killing herds. Wolves, wolverines and eagles make up the main threat for sheep in the Yukon and I hope it remains this way for generations to come.
So the next time You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know comes on the air, join in a laugh at some of the less serious facts you are unaware of.
Bryce Bekar is a local outdoors man who believes in hunting with his family, not for them.