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Trophy or anomaly? Wildlife finds a way to survive

Posted at 5:34 PM, Apr 05, 2022

BOZEMAN - False teeth, glasses, artificial joints and limbs - are all adaptions people use to function because of an injury or medical condition.

In the wild world, none of those are available, so wildlife has to find their own ways to survive.

A recent photo of a bighorn sheep with a bad horn sparked a conversation about how much we should be involved in helping them with those adaptions.

On display in the Region 3 office of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in Bozeman, is a mount of a bighorn sheep, showing uniform curl. Not every bighorn sheep is nearly so perfect. A recent post on social media about a bighorn sheep in southwest Montana with a damaged horn sparked questions about FWP taking action to help it.

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A recent photo of a bighorn sheep with a bad horn sparked a conversation about how much we should be involved in helping them with those adaptions.

"What happened was this ram when it was young was sparring with a ram much older than it and it took an injury to its growth plate," said FWP Wildlife Biologist Julie Cunningham. "So its horn has developed abnormally and it's not seeing out of its right eye. But I watched this ram rutting this year and it was in there with all the other big rams chasing around the ewes and it seems to be fat and healthy and happy."

Some commented on the social media post that Fish, Wildlife and Parks should dart the ram and cut the horn. FWP will take that kind of action at times, but the reality of that is, if the animal is doing Okay, naturally, they will let nature take its course.

"They look different so we do get called about them but we do have to have to take into consideration if we're going to go and respond to an animal that injured or has something abnormal we have to consider the risk of being involved in a response," said FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Ramsey. "There's definitely a risk of going out and capturing a wild animal drugging a wild animal there are things that we can't control so we don't want to make matters worse especially if the animal's out there surviving, thriving, even though it might look different."

"As Dr. Ramsey indicated anytime we go dart an animal we don't want to make it worse," added Cunningham. "Darting and drugging a wild animal come with a whole lot of risk to the wild animal itself and the humans so to go in and cut off its horn would have a lot of risk to that animal. Right now he has lived healthily for years and he's rutting and doing everything he's supposed to be doing so why risk him let him be unique?"

Unique but not alone. FWP sees animals like this regularly. A deer taken during last year's hunt was missing an eye and had deformed antlers - not all that unusual. Some are extreme. An elk suffered a compound fracture and survived long enough for the bone to grow around the break.

"This stuff is all atypical, but you know, not as uncommon as one might think," said Ramsey. "But we do sometimes see stuff that's really amazing. Generally, you'd hear someone say 'Wow, I can't believe these animals have these kinds of injuries and things and they just go on with life.' It's pretty impressive now and then you see something that's kind of remarkable."

FWP would like to know if you see an animal with any kind of physical issue. They ask that you not make an attempt to help in any way. FWP will investigate and take any actions biologists feel are needed. Their advice? If you care, leave them there.

As for the ram with the odd curl? FWP will continue to monitor it and all the rest of Montana's wildlife - trophy or anomaly.