Wildlife authorities with Parks Canada are seeking information about two bighorn sheep that were killed, decapitated, and left to rot in Jasper National Park last month. It’s the first poaching investigation to take place in the park in nearly a decade, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Jasper officials first learned of the poached bighorns on Oct. 17 when a visitor reported finding an illegally killed ram at Edna’s Knoll. Upon visiting the scene, they found the ram’s carcass and another one nearby shortly thereafter. Both carcasses were missing their heads, and they hadn’t been scavenged upon, which led officials to assume the kills were recent. Necropsies confirmed their suspicions and showed that both sheep had been shot sometime between 4 p.m. on Oct. 16 and 10 a.m. on Oct. 17.
An investigation is ongoing, and Parks Canada is asking members of the public for any information on suspicious persons or vehicles in the area. The park’s resource conservation manager Dave Argument told CBC that the incident was particularly upsetting because the poacher (or poachers) took only the trophy heads and left everything else to waste.
“I find it quite saddening, of course, that somebody would take it upon themselves to remove these animals from the population in such a disrespectful and wasteful manager,” Argument said. “It certainly wasn’t a meat harvest, the way a lot of hunters are actually motivated by the opportunity to put food on the table. That’s not a factor here. This was purely the removal of the heads of both of these rams.”
Argument also pointed out that poaching is rare in the national park. The last poaching investigation to take place in Jasper was in 2014, after a bull elk was taken illegally with a crossbow. (It’s unclear if that case was ever solved.) Parks Canada takes these crimes seriously, however. If convicted, the trophy bighorn poachers could face fines of more than $250,000.
Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are iconic residents of Jasper National Park, which comprises some of Alberta’s best high-elevation sheep habitat. The park’s bighorn population currently sits at around 3,000 animals.