Trophy hunters making the pilgrimage to Canada’s Ram Mountain, Alberta, home to the world’s biggest bighorn sheep, are being increasingly disappointed. Ram Mountain has long been a magnet for sport shooters of North America’s mountain sheep,1 but rams with the large horns so highly prized by hunters are now hard to find.
A world-class trophy ram is regarded as an extremely valuable commodity, with hunting permits being auctioned for very large sums. How large? One sport shooter paid over a million Canadian dollars in 1998 and 1999 for permits to hunt trophy rams in Alberta.
But such is the decline in horn size of Ram Mountain’s rams, that in recent years hunters have gone home empty-handed, not having found any sheep with horns larger than the minimum regulation size.
Researchers who documented the decline in horn size over the past three decades say it is “an evolutionary response to sport hunting of bighorn trophy rams” (emphasis added).2,3 They noted that ram body weight has also declined, essentially confirming earlier suspicions that selective removal of large-horned rams was reducing the overall genetic fitness of the bighorn sheep population.4,5 By killing the largest rams “of high genetic quality” before they reach their breeding peak, the hunters have depleted the genes for big horns and fast growth. These “undesirable evolutionary consequences” of trophy hunting “will be extremely difficult to reverse”, say the researchers (emphasis added).2
It’s not evolution!
To the extent that the researchers have observed that selective culling of large-horned rams at Ram Mountain has diminished the size of rams and their horns, with concomitant reduction in variety in the gene pool and a deterioration in the population’s “genetic fitness”, the researchers are correct. But these changes are not an “evolutionary response” or “evolutionary consequence” as they have nothing to do with evolution. Evolution—the supposedly information-gaining process by which, over millions of years, some primeval soupy ‘seep’ became sheep—is nowhere in evidence here….
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