The population of bighorn sheep in the Thompson-Nicola region has been rapidly declining in recent years.
According to the Wild Sheep Society of BC (WSSBC), the Thompson River bighorn sheep have lost up to 50 per cent of the herds in Kamloops Lake and South Thompson.
“We are looking at the Skeetchestn herd as the baseline herd as their populations are relatively stable,” explained Kyle Stelter, chief executive officer of the WSSBC. “Thompson River bighorn sheep populations (Kamloops Lake and South Thompson herds) have declined over the last six to eight years from approximately 750 individuals to approximately 350 to 375, while others along the Thompson River have remained stable. The South Thompson herd (Sun Rivers Golf course to Lion’s Head), as well as Kamloops Lake herd (Kamloops Airport to just past Deadman’s Creek) have collectively declined roughly 50 per cent.”
However, the cause of the population’s decline is unknown and several organizations have come together to investigate the cause.
The Skeetchestn Indian Band, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, WSSBC, BC Wildlife Federation and Thompson Rivers University have partnered up to capture and collar 30 bighorn sheep on the South Thompson sheep range this fall. This follows the capture and radio-collaring of 30 bighorn sheep on Kamloops Lake in December 2021.
The WSSBC and its members have so far committed $72,500 to the undertaking, with $52,500 used to purchase 40 GPS collars and $20,000 allocated to helicopter capture time.
“Current data suggests poor lamb survival and recruitment is a dominant factor, but an investigation into adult female survival is required to determine the extent to which it may be contributing to population decline,” Stelter said.
Thompson Rivers University student Nesa7 White has joined the project team as part of her thesis for her master of science in environmental science and is expecting to be involved with the conservation efforts until 2024, when she aims to graduate. She will be conducting health assessments in the grasslands to determine if one herd has a higher survival rate than another in an effort to investigate why populations are declining.
“It’s really extraordinary to have these lambs right here in our backyard,” White said, noting the traditional ecological knowledge being shared by First Nations elders has captured her interest regarding wildlife conservation efforts.
“We want to restore the herd, and their habitat, so we can try to bring back the populations up to where they want them to be,” White said.
Currently, lamb survival rates are too low to maintain the herd’s population in the coming years. White’s thesis will include providing recommendations to help promote a healthy herd population in the future.
“I really am interested in the traditional ecological part,” White said. “The traditional ecological knowledge is just a really holistic approach to wildlife conservation. I’m excited to weave that into my thesis and it’s [been] really successful in other wildlife conservation projects, so I think that this project could also be really successful because the bands are already involved.”