Looking for Bighorn Sheep

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This post will be about our ‘Bighorn sheep research trip’ alias ‘exploration holiday’  ; )

One of my friends is studying in Kamloops, Canada. Her main work will be a study about California bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis californiana) and their movements in the Kamloops area. Part of this study will be to figure out a solution on how to better protect the wild sheep from domestic ones. As the latter can transfer an often fatal disease to their wild ‘cousins’. (The domestic ones are immune, their wild counterparts are not.)

Studying typical wild sheep behaviour and habitat therefore is in her interest and thus was a good enough excuse to take a holiday and explore beautiful BC a bit more in the search of those elusive sheep!

But as always, I like to start at the beginning

In spring, while I was planning my trip to Canada, I asked my friend Edyta, if she would be interested in visiting the big Rodeo in Williams Lake. I had never been there nor had she; and I was arriving about the time it took place. ‘So why not give it a try?’, I thought.

The autumn before, I had been to the quite famous Farwell Canyon. At a time too, when the Trembling Aspen were glowing in golden glory, and a local bighorn sheep herd had already moved into their winter habitat. So it seemed – as at that time a little herd of ewes, lambs and young rams was lying in the field only a few hundred meters from the road!

group of california bighorn sheep in grassland
The group of California Bighorn sheep we were so blessed to watch close by the road at Farwell Canyon.

I told myself then, that I must return to explore the close by Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park one day. As we had neither the time nor the right car for the rough roads in it, when I was there in 2017.

My friend readily agreed on this scheme too, so we renamed our road trip into a ‘sheep research trip’. We were going to look for sheep and learn as much as possible about their habitat.

As for the details of the plan, we left them to be discussed in person later on.


Rodeo or Nature?

picture of a bucking horse versus hills coloured by the sunset
‘Watching a rodeo’ versus ‘Exploring nature’. The decision was not a difficult one for me.

A messy start in Canada

For various reasons I had failed to book a bus ticket before coming to Canada. The consequence of which was that my trip started with a big disappointment and a lot of stress for me. Upon my arrival at the combined bus and railway station I found that buses going north were sold out until the next day 2pm. (Probably all heading to the rodeo themselves, but I had not though of that at all…)

In vain I tried to figure out different options. But nothing was to be done, but for one thing. So, biting the sour apple, I purchased a train ticket for twice or thrice the price of a bus ticket. Yet I WAS lucky still, because here in Canada – unlike in Europe where trains leave multiple times a day – this particular train only departs two times a week. In retrospection, I was actually really fortunate that I happened to be ‘stranded’ there on one of these two days. Bisedes it was very likely also the more sustainable way of travelling, but at that moment I was more concerned about my budget…

As the train slowly moved through the night, I finally got some rest… (I had been fighting my tiredness, trying to not sleep during the flight, to reduce the jet lag.)   Until the train pulled into the Kamloops station about 6.30am.

Finally, Kamloops – time to make a decision

It was good that I had gotten some sleep as the day was going to be busy: I had only that day to buy all I would need for the following days on the road and the weeks to come after. (It was June 30th, and all shops were going to be closed for Canada Day on July 1st and 2nd!)

So while we were busy going around and organizing stuff, we started to discuss our little roadtrip. In the end, my friend and I both agreed on dropping the kind of wearisome part of the plan – to see the rodeo – as neither of us was keen on being perched into a small area with thousands of people… we also had seen smaller rodeos before. After months in town we both clearly needed a nature fix more than anything else!

Instead of joining thousands observing what could well be observed as ‘animal cruelity’ – though often normal procedures in everyday ranching life; we would be working on our appreciation of what is natural, good and worth protecting.

And the truth is, no rodeo could lure us away from the charms of spring, beat the excitement of going exploring and be more rewarding than actually finding and observing those beautiful wild sheep.

And accordingly it turned into a complete ‘sheep research’ trip.

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