The Pipe Ram: a wildlife good-news story

Written by Kaitlin Hancock, a Habitat and Wildlife Co-op Technician Summer Student with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in Cranbrook. 

Before removing the pipe

In November 2018, Cranbrook Conservation Officers (COs) received an interesting report from the public. A Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ram, which was located roughly 30 km east of Cranbrook, had a piece of pipe stuck on its lower leg.

The ram was only using three legs because of the pipe, which meant he had a hard time foraging and was more vulnerable to predators. This group of rams migrate into rugged, high-elevation summer range in June and it is unlikely the ram would have survived the migration on 3 legs. The COs had been trying to dart the ram to remove the pipe since February 2019, but were not able to get within range of the ram. On May 29, myself along with Wildlife Biologist Patrick Stent and Ecosystem Biologist Antje Bohm set out to get the job done.

After removing the pipe

As we arrived at the site and scanned the bachelor herd of rams. It was easy to tell the Pipe Ram apart from the rest. He was three years old and was skinnier than the rest. He wouldn’t put any weight on his right rear leg, which the pipe was stuck on.

After some difficulty we managed to safely dart the ram, and once we approached him we realized how bad the wound was. The chunk of hard rubber pipe was tightly wedged between the hoof and dew claws. It was cutting into the tissue on his leg and was infected. We moved the ram to a cool, shady area inside a building and used cold water and ice packs to keep his temperature from rising. Patrick and I immediately got to work removing the pipe with a hack saw, while Antje supported the ram’s head and worked to keep him cool.

Throughout the procedure, we were receiving helpful advice from provincial wildlife veterinarian Dr. Helen Schwantje over the phone. Once we had successfully removed the piece of pipe from his leg, we rinsed and disinfected the wound as best we could. Because the ram had not been putting any weight on that leg, the hoof was grown out. We trimmed the hoof to the same length and shape as the others so that, as the wound healed, he could walk on it comfortably.

When we had done the best we could, we took the ram back to where the rest of the herd was bedded and gave him the reversal injection. Within minutes, he was back on his feet again and hanging out with his buddies. He was still not putting any weight on the injured leg, as it was surely still painful and will take some time to get better.

Our mission was successful, and we hope that soon the Pipe Ram will heal up and be able to use all four legs again.

Patrick and I working on cutting the pipe off

Ram making his way back to the herd after the procedure

Returned back to the herd after the procedure (ram is second from the left, notice him holding up his right hind leg)