Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE DALL SHEEP is perhaps the outstanding large animal found in Mount McKinley National Park. It is numerous in the Mount McKinley region and during my entire stay there in 1926 there was scarcely a day that I did not count from 50 to 100 of them on the surrounding hillsides within a mile of my camp. In fact, I counted more than 3,000 at different times during that one season.

Dall sheep are white the year around. An average ram stands about 39 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 200 pounds. The ears and tail of this species are short and inconspicuous. The males have relatively slender, widespreading horns (see illustration), while those of the females are short and only slightly curved.

In the McKinley region, mountain sheep winter along the foothills at the north base of the mountains at a relatively low elevation where the snowfall is comparatively light. Here the sheep are able to paw down through the snow to get at the grasses and browse which form their daily food. These grasses mature and cure on the stem and thereby provide an adequate, natural food supply during the winter months.

The white woolly lambs are born in May or the early part of June. Frequently twin lambs are born. Their cradle is a warm pocket in the rocks and is usually protected by surrounding cliffs. As soon as they are able to run about, the lambs congregate in small groups. Once in the Savage River Canyon, in the latter part of May, I found a Dall sheep nursery or "kindergarten" where 10 lambs were romping about together. This "kindergarten" was watched over constantly by one of the mothers. Apparently, the mothers shared this labor because one would watch the lambs a while, then she would go off to feed and another would assume the duty. The favorite game of these lambs appeared to be "follow-the-leader," and each youngster took a turn leading the group up some boulder or cliff. As soon as one circuit was completed, another lamb would serve as leader, choosing a different route.

Although to me this type of play seemed to be rather hazardous, it was probably nothing but the normal, necessary training for these young animals to enable them to escape their enemies and, when they grew up, to maintain their race. Once I watched a wayward lamb venture out on a slanting rock, overhanging a sheer drop of 80 feet. I held my breath, because the daring youngster seemingly was headed for certain destruction. A watchful mother was also taking in the situation, and, quickly bounding over the rocks, butted and pushed her erring offspring back to safety.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010