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Whitehorse wildlife grows bolder

Have you heard the one about the moose walking into the car lot at Klondike Motors?How about the bathrobed woman who came face-to-face with a…

Have you heard the one about the moose walking into the car lot at Klondike Motors?

How about the bathrobed woman who came face-to-face with a mountain goat in her Porter Creek backyard?

Or the pair of sheep bunkered down on Grey Mountain’s shooting range and butting heads with ram silhouettes the shooters use for target practice?

The eagle family that built its summer home above the popular tourist pullout on Robert Service Way?

Or the black bear that was sorting through trash bins at Lobird Trailer Park?

“We shouldn’t be surprised to see any of these big mammals wander through Whitehorse off and on,” said wildlife management chief Doug Larsen.

In fact, there are moose and bears that live within the city limits.

“If you take a broader look at the Yukon and the fact that Whitehorse is one small piece and we are living with wildlife habitat all around us,” said Larsen.

With the wide variety of species — bear, moose, sheep, goat, eagle — that paid the city a visit this summer, experts are reluctant to point to any one cause.

“It’s curious, but there really is no explanation,” said Larsen.

Two wild darlings, who captured the attention of animal lovers around the city, were the ram and ewe shacked up at the Grey Mountain shooting range.

They hung around the silhouette targets — their favourite were the turkey, at 385 metres up the range, and the ram at 500 metres up the range, said Whitehorse rifle and pistol club vice-president Dave Buchanan.

“The ram likes to beat the devil out of our clangers, which is what we call our hanging targets.”

Buchanan has been shooting at the Grey mountain range for more than 10 years and, although he’s seen a lot of sheep on the mountain, this is the first time they’ve shacked up on the shooting range.

“They probably realize that this is a nice safe place to be because there’s no hunting on the gun range, even though there’s lots of shooting.

“I guess they have it figured out that no one’s going to bother them and, for the most part, they’re quite safe,” said Buchanan.

“It just seems really weird that there have been so many ungulates right in town this year,” said Environment’s sheep and goat biologist Jean Carey.

“But there hasn’t been any animals showing up in places that we wouldn’t consider their natural habitat if we were not here.”

As for the sheep butting heads with the shooting club’s metal targets?

That sort of behaviour is “weird,” said Carey.

Sheep butt heads to see who is the dominant ram, and he gets to do most of the breeding.

But it seems far-fetched that a sheep would butt heads with a metal silhouette more than once before learning his lesson, said Carey with a laugh.

Animals move looking for safety, food or new mating opportunities, said Carey.

There are few predators, like wolves, within city limits and that could mean the sheep have found a place where they can lay their furry heads without fear of being eaten, she said.

Ungulates, like sheep, goats and moose, pose little danger to humans unless they feel threatened.

If sheep are disturbed they’ll flee and their horns, which curl back in spirals beside their heads, are designed for butting each other.

If goats feel threatened they will hole up in an inaccessible area and then do their best to hold their ground.

“But their horns mean business,” said Carey.

If you find yourself between a cow moose and a calf, or before a bull moose in rut get out of the way.

“All of these are browsers or grazers, so it’s not like they look at humans as prey,” said Carey.

Omnivores, like bears, can prove more dangerous.

And a quick check from the Environment department shows there have been double the bear problems reported this year as there had been by this time last year, said spokesperson Dennis Senger.

There were 162 problem bear reports this year, according to figures from August 23.

Compared with 87 in 2005, and 144 in 2004.

“There was a bear hanging out in Porter Creek chewing on dandelions and having a wonderful day in the sunshine,” said Senger.

“There was a bear out on the greenbelt in Copper Ridge.

“They’ve been walking up on people’s porches and looking in their living-room windows.”

Although the department has no statistics from the past month, Senger says the volume of calls dropped off after Labour Day.

“Bears, like other wildlife, go through fluctuations in population, and behaviour will change from year to year depending on weather patterns,” said Larsen.

“To me it’s not something to be shocked about, it happens.”

Young males roam looking for new areas to settle in, that’s how animals find new habitat, said Larsen.

But it’s impossible to blame the visiting species on one thing or another.