Elk Valley visitors can now get a close-up view of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep ram that lived for almost 12 years at Teck’s Greenhills Operations, growing horns that are ranked jointly the sixth largest in B.C. and the 33rd largest in the world.
Fernie Chamber of Commerce has the mounted ram head on display at its nature centre on Highway 3, which presents the history and resources of the Elk Valley to visitors and local school groups.
The ram was well known to workers and visitors at Greenhills Operations in Elkford because of its size.
In March 2011, several reports were received by the conservation service that the ram was dead on the property. When local conservation officers investigated they found the sheep was still alive, but severely emaciated and underweight by 75 pounds or more. After consulting with regional wildlife biologists it was clear that the ram was starving to death and should be euthanized to prevent further suffering.
The ram was necropsied by provincial veterinarian Helen Schwantje, to find out what contributed to the degrading health of the sheep and to check it for disease or infections that could compromise the health of other animals.
Sadly the sheep was starving due to its teeth. No disease or infections were found, but the ram was missing a molar on one jaw. Due to continuing growth of teeth throughout their lifetimes, most animals require the grinding action of chewing food to ensure their teeth wear evenly. In the case of this ram, a tooth from the corresponding jaw grew into the gap left by the missing tooth and he was unable to grind his food properly.
Due to deep snowfall over the winter, the ram was not obtaining enough nutrition and was starving to death. His muscle mass had deteriorated so much that bone marrow was being utilized to survive. The effort required to carry the 45 pounds of horns on his head, was essentially draining his strength and body resources.
Under the Boone and Crocket scoring system which measures the size of horns, the ram scored 199 and 5/8 inches. This ranks it number 33 in the world and tied for sixth largest in B.C. Its horns were 43 inches in length and weighed 45 pounds.
Chamber of Commerce Manager Sarah Parry said: “This monarch of the mountains is a good representation of the bighorn sheep in the Elk Valley and a cooperative effort was made to ensure he could be displayed locally.
“The provincial Wildlife Branch permitted the sheep to be displayed at the Nature Centre and because the sheep lived on the Greenhills site and was well known to many employees and visitors to the mine, Teck paid to have the sheep mounted by Dan Van Zanten of Glacier Mountain Taxidermy in Cranbrook.”
The ram is on display at Fernie Chamber of Commerce, 102 Highway 3, Fernie. For opening hours and more information call 250-423-6868.