Other Large Mammals
Bighorn sheep (also called Dall Sheep or Rocky Mountain sheep) are easy to recognize—if you spy an animal with spiraled horns that curve up 360 degrees, it’s a bighorn. They spend summers grazing on open slopes or along roadsides, often attracted by natural salt deposits, such as along the Alaska Highway and in Jasper National Park east of the town.
The remarkable rock-climbing ability of these nimble-footed creatures allows them to live on rocky ledges or near-vertical slopes, safe from predators. They also frequent the alpine meadows and open forests of the Canadian Rockies, where they congregate around natural licks of salt. The goats stand one meter (3.2 feet) at the shoulder and weigh 40–530 kilograms (140–290 pounds). Both sexes possess a peculiar beard, or rather, goatee. The goats shed their thick coats each summer, making them look ragged, but by fall they’ve regrown a fine, new white woolen coat.
Found roaming the prairie grasslands of southeastern Alberta, the pronghorn, often called antelope, is one of the fastest animals in the New World, capable of sustained speeds up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. Other remarkable attributes also ensure its survival, including incredible hearing and eyesight, and the ability to go without water for long periods of time.
These shaggy beasts, hunted to near extinction by the turn of the 20th century, are now restricted to the high Arctic. Banks Island is home to around 65,000 musk oxen, over half the world’s total population. The image of them in a defensive circle, protecting their young from predators or the cold, is an endearing symbol of the North. Known to the Inuit as oomingmak, meaning “bearded one,” they are covered with an underlayer of short, fine wool and a topcoat of shaggy hair up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) long. This gives the animals their characteristic prehistoric appearance and helps protect them from frequent blizzards and winter temperatures that in some areas average –30°C (–22°F).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition