FAIRBANKS -- The Dall sheep ram that took up residence at the Fort Knox Mine three years ago is still living at the big gold mine about 25 miles north of Fairbanks.
"He's got a favorite spot out there where you can see him almost every afternoon," said Delbert Parr, the mine's environmental manager. "He goes up on a pile of topsoil and grazes in the morning and goes back and lays down at the bottom of the pile in the afternoon."
The ram showed up at the mine in the summer of 2009. Where he came from is a mystery.
The nearest sheep habitat is in the White Mountains, about 30 miles to the west. Another possibility is the Tanana-Yukon uplands, a distance of about 60 miles to the northeast, said Tom Seaton, an assistant area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The ram could even have migrated from the Alaska Range, he said.
The ram's horns are about 3/4 curl and it appears to be about 5 years old, judging from horn growth and body size, Seaton said. It will be another two or three years before the ram has full-curl horns, the definition of a legal ram, according to state hunting regulations.
While he was a little surprised when the sheep showed up at the mine three years ago, Seaton isn't surprised it's still hanging around.
"It's obviously found a good place to live," the biologist said. "There's plenty of grass there not being consumed by other grazers. It's got its own private food source."
Photographs taken two weeks ago indicate the ram appears to be healthy, Seaton said.
"Obviously, he has good nutrition based on his horn growth," the biologist said. "He's got a nice, rounded rump that indicates fat depth. He has good muscle definition in the shoulder. It looks like he's growing into a beautiful animal."
The sheep has also grown accustomed to people, Parr said.
"He will just lay there and let you get within 20 yards of him," he said. "He just poses for you."
Though the ram has stayed at the mine for the last three years, Seaton suspects he will eventually move on when the right mood strikes him.
"Sheep are fairly social animals," the biologist said. "Eventually he's going to have some social desires."
Or as Parr put it, "I would think he's getting to the age where he must think there's more to life."
By TIM MOWRY
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner