Thompson River bighorn sheep Collaring Project – Get involved

Photo Credit: Peter Gutsche

The Wild Sheep Society of BC is pleased to offer our members and supporters an opportunity to ensure their donations are making a difference for BC’s Wild Sheep.

Thompson River bighorn sheep populations (Kamloops Lake and South Thompson herds) have declined over the last 6-8 years from approximately 750 individuals to approximately 350-375, while others along the Thompson River have remained stable. Cause of the population declines is currently unknown but current data suggests poor lamb survival and recruitment is a dominant factor. Investigation into adult female survival is required to determine the extent to which it may be contributing to population decline.

We suspect there are three primary factors, driving Thompson River bighorn sheep population declines:

  • Predation: direct mortality of lambs and adult ewes.
  • Sheep health: Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M.ovi) infection is of particular concern; direct or indirect mortality of lambs depending on specific health-determinants currently affecting these sheep; there is known domestic sheep within bighorn range currently and in the past. Several other diseases need to be assessed and other potential issues include mineral deficiencies, which can affect sheep health in many ways.
  • Habitat Condition: indirect effects on lamb survival through poor maternal condition in the fall; may be related to forage quality or quantity or both; confirmed issues of overgrazing in some areas (e.g. feral horses, winter cattle grazing) and invasive plant establishment (i.e., cheatgrass and others) in most areas.

This project seeks to understand the relative influences of these 3 mechanisms to inform the development of effective management strategies. For example, M.ovi status needs to be determined first as all other management actions will fail if M.ovi infection has occurred, persists, and is not addressed first. Given the time, difficulty and cost associated with monitoring rates and causes of lamb mortality directly, the practical approach is to investigate level of support for those factors that are easier to assess (health, condition, adult female survival) and thereby assess level of support for the more difficult factors to measure (i.e., lamb predation). Similar data may be collected in an adjacent sheep population (e.g., Spatsum or Battle Creek herds) that has not declined to assist with identifying dominant factors contributing to poor lamb survival.

This is a collaborative partnership with the Skeetchestn Indian Band, Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, Wild Sheep Society of BC(WSSBC), BC Wildlife Federation, and Thompson Rivers University. As supported through funding provided by the WSSBC in 2021, 30 bighorn sheep have been captured and radio-collared on Kamloops Lake in December 2021.

You can get involved by either purchasing a collar or one hour of helicopter time for our 2022/23 capture season.  We will need to acquire 40 collars for this test and treatment season as well as 80 hours of helicopter time.  One collar costs roughly $1500 and one hour of helicopter time is roughly $1500 per hour.

You can make a difference for the South Thompson Bighorn Sheep by purchasing a collar or helicopter time.  Purchase a project collar for $1500 and you will receive an ear tag with the tag number of the Bighorn you are sponsoring.  We will send you a certificate indicating your participation in the program and if we are able to capture a picture a photo of your sponsored sheep.

Purchase one hour of helicopter time for $1500 and you will receive a certificate indicating your participation in the program.  The Wild Sheep Society of BC will match your donation of $1500 so that for every one hour of helicopter time you are effectively paying for two hours.

Your donation is Monarch eligible and we will offer you a tax deductible receipt for your contribution if made through the Mountain Wildlife Conservation Society.

There has never been a better time to support the wild sheep of British Columbia.  Your charitable donation will make a significant difference for these herds and you will leave a legacy for future generations.

 

How can I get support?

Are you wanting to help our South Thompson Bighorns?  To find out how you can contribute, contact Kyle Stelter at kstelter@wildsheepsociety.com for more details.