Over 2011 and 2012, Paul Colangelo camped on Todagin Mountain with its large herd of endangered Stone’s Sheep for five months to tell the story of the herd and document its habitat use, using specialized camera equipment to record the movements of the sheep across the plateau. Learn more in his earlier posts: Surviving Todagin. His story continues below.
By Paul Colangelo, International League of Conservation Photographers
Two were laid out on a blue tarp. Dead, but their bodies intact. Mouths open and heads lowered, their legs splayed as if in mid horizontal trot. The other two formed a tangled heap of muscle and blood in a wheelbarrow. Skinned, the wolves were unrecognizable save for their teeth, now bared in a snarl.
Two Days Earlier
Half an hour after sunset, I finished photographing a group of sheep and climbed back up to the plateau to hike back to camp. Enjoying a rare still night, I was thankful not to be battered by the wind. Two feet of snow blanketed the plateau, making the silence even deeper. Half a mile away, a wolf emerged over a crest, followed by another, and then another, until the pack was 16-strong. The wolves trotted across the plateau in silence, with a confidence only top predators can afford. Noses to the ground in search of sheep, they just as quickly disappeared over a hill.
Two days later I escorted a researcher back down to the wilderness homestead that we used as a base. For much of the eight-hour hike down the mountain, we followed the tracks of the pack. When we reached the house, the owners were skinning four of the wolves in their garage. They had set the snares after the pack descended the mountain and killed two of their goats. The skins will be sold to tourists. When you depend on what you produce at a wilderness homestead, you cannot escape the complexities inherent in living with wildlife.
The first thing one sees upon entering this home is an oil painting of five full-curl Stone’s sheep standing majestically on a snowy peak looking out over their domain and onto the mountainous horizon. Tourists rent their guest cabins each summer to hike up Todagin and view the herd.
Hunters will pay upwards of $35,000 for the chance to kill a Stone’s sheep, one of the four mountain sheep species needed for the coveted “Grand Slam.” The hunters come from around the world to hunt the sheep, which exist only in northern British Columbia and the Yukon. This has fueled the longest running Tahltan-operated business, an outfitting company that for over 60 years has guided hunters up Todagin Mountain.
A Bigger Threat Than Hunters
Wolves, grizzlies, subsistence hunters, sport hunters, tourists and, more recently, researchers are all drawn up Todagin Mountain by the sheep that call the plateau home. Recognizing the value of the herd, the British Columbia government has protected the herd’s winter habitat with a provincial park. We must question then the decision to open the rest of the herd’s habitat to mining. While the sight of skinned wolves is striking and gives a sense of the immediate challenges faced by wildlife on the mountain, it is the sight of roads and other infrastructure clearing the way for mining that looms largest on the horizon for the wildlife of Todagin.
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