Some pretty cute babies have been born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve this spring. There are several sheep lambs, four lynx kittens, a mule deer fawn and a caribou calf.
And their cuteness is drawing people out to see them.
“Babies are the big hit,” says Marjorie Powers, a volunteer at the preserve. “They all go, ‘Ahhhh, look. Look at how cute they are.’ At least the women do, pulling their boyfriends along.”
However, the animals are behind a fence in huge enclosures – as close to their natural habitat as possible – across the 750-acre site; their coats enable them to blend in with their surroundings; and their moms are keeping them out of trouble. The secret seeing the babies is to employ patience, perseverance, good eyes, and some good luck.
That, and try to be there at treat time.
Powers says the animals know the daily schedule, and will draw near to the fence at treat-o-clock.
“Around mid-day most of the pastures will get treats of aspen branches or willow branches – and they like that,” Powers says. “So they know when the truck comes by for that and the animals will come pretty close to the fence to feast.”
There are five baby Dall’s Sheep at the preserve, and Powers says they’re often observable.
“You can usually see a lamb fairly easily — they’re either grazing with mom or napping or running,” Powers says. “To see all four of them running at once is adorable. It looks like a race.
“If you get close enough you can see them – you can either walk or take the bus tour.”
The bus tour leaves the main building every two hours with an interpreter on board. The tour stops at each enclosure, so visitors get a chance to climb down and get close to the fence to watch the animals.
And there are many.
The preserve is home to Rocky Mountain elk, mountain goats, Alaska Yukon moose, muskoxen, wood bison, arctic foxes and more.
The facility takes in and rehabilitates sick, injured or orphaned animals and collaborates with veterinary schools and universities to conduct research. Over the past five years they have received 102 birds and mammals and have rehabilitated and released 88.
Powers, a veterinary student from Missouri, is part of a team of three volunteers who are hand-rearing a three-week old Dall’s Sheep and preparing her to join another flock. They began feeding the little lamb every hour when she was born on May 31. Now they are on a schedule of every three hours – except 3 a.m.
“She started to not be hungry at 3 a.m., so we thought, ‘If you’re not going to eat, then we’re going to stay up,'” Powers says.
The herd that this lamb was born into has possibly been exposed to Johne’s disease in 2002, which fatally affects their digestive tract. So to be safe, the lamb was taken from that flock, kept indoors, and is carefully being introduced to the outdoors and a new flock. The goal is acceptance.
“When we introduce her to the adult flock we want her to be as wild as possible,” Powers says.
That means they don’t pet her, and they haven’t named her.
Which must be hard since she’s soooo cute.
Powers says she is almost ready to leave their nest and join the new flock.
“Since we started to introduce her to the healthy flock, we’re taking her outside for more time and more often,” Powers says. “Ideally, she’ll become comfortable with them, so the public will have more opportunities to see her.”
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is located a half-hour north of downtown Whitehorse, at kilometre 8 along the Takhini Hot Springs Road.
The preserve is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and guided bus tours begin every two hours, starting at 10 a.m. For more information, go to www.YukonWildlife.ca.