Dall Sheep Ram, Denali National Park

A dall sheep ram approaches while it grazes on the high alpine tundra, DenalI National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

A dall sheep ram approaches while it grazes on the high alpine tundra, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Hey Folks,

Here’s a Dall sheep ram I photographed a few years back, when I was doing a hike in Denali National Park and Preserve. It’s been a couple of years now since I spent any time in Denali National Park (the last time I was beyond Savage River was on a trip with my parents, in 07). As much as I enjoy my project in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, I do miss photographing in Denali. Hopefully this next year my schedule will work out such that I can squeeze in some time in Denali – and find this Dall sheep ram again.

It’s quite an experience having a full curl ram approach within inches of your eyeball. I remember I was lying down (as I wrote about here in an earlier post), and this ram got up from his slumber, and gradually came closer and closer. I didn’t move as he kept moving towards me. Photographing with a 28-70mm lens, I was only able to keep the entire sheep in the frame by zooming all the way out to the lens’ widest setting. Eventually he was within the minimum focusing distance of the lens, and all I could do was enjoy the moment. Having a set of horns like this within a foot of your face, whilst laying prone on the ground, is putting some trust in wildlife.

It’s interesting too how big the body of these guys is; something you don’t really realize until you’re up so close and personal. They’re bigger than you think they might be.

Lastly, a note about wildlife photography and approaching animals, harassing animals and rules and regulations. The Regulations in Denali National Park and Preserve state that people must maintain a minimum distance of 75 feet from ungulates, such as sheep, caribou and moose. Approaching within this distance is a breach of those rules. Similarly, allowing an animal to approach yourself within that distance and not making a “reasonable” effort to maintain that distance breaches those rules. I was certainly outside those rules, and a ranger would’ve likely cited me, or at least yelled at and scolded me for being too close. In my defense, I’ll point out, as I did in the above linked post, that the small band of rams had lain down to sleep. I did the same thing, and was safe and sound a good 30 yards away – it’s unfair to call it harassment if the animal lies down and goes to sleep. Further, it’s pretty hard to claim any harassment if the animals were sleeping. Next, this particular ram got up and made his way towards me, grazing; for all his worldly cares I didn’t exist. If I had made an effort to get up and back away, it would almost certainly have been more distracting and disturbing to the Dall sheep than if I lay still on the ground, and let him see I posed no threat.

Rules and regulations about approaching wildlife are sometimes made, in my opinion, with the best of intentions toward the wildlife, and I fully support that. But I also realize that rules involving wildlife must be contextual. I don’t think I did the wrong thing, or that I upset the balance of Gaia or disturbed the Dall sheep ram, but my position is somewhat biased here. I know of a couple of rangers in Denali National Park who definitely would argue against me, given the opportunity, and write up a ticket. I’m glad the Dall sheep ram doesn’t see the world the way they do.



6 thoughts on “Dall Sheep Ram, Denali National Park

  1. John Wall

    Excellent and amazing shot, and I like that you addressed the issue of getting close in a national park. If you’d been in a wilderness area, or simply in a nondenominational wildland, there’d be no beef at all. Jurisdiction is everything these days. The politically correct thing to do would have been to turn yourself in at once. Maybe they’d have accepted the photo in lieu of payment. 😉

  2. Mark

    Hey Carl – I couldn’t agree more with you in your statements about moving being more of a disturbance than sitting there quiet. I also think it is unfortunate that issues of being too close seem to come up more and more with shots like this. This animal clearly doesn’t seem to have one ounce of stress that you are there, and shooting this wide and the perspective it offers demonstrates that trust. It’s a very intimate shot. Being close doesn’t always equate to imposing stress.

    That said, I think it is also a tough position the rangers are in and the difficulty they might have in taking context into account. I wish they would also, especially if you were there alone and not in a public setting. Unfortunately as you know – John.Q.Public doesn’t have the sensibilities some of us have – far from it it seems most times. To make matters worse, other photographers – pros or otherwise – make the situation more difficult for the rangers by being idiots.

    I sometimes wonder if the concept of a “wildlife awareness license” would work. Licensed people in the field are somehow already certified to know what they are doing.

  3. Carl D Post author

    Hey Folks,

    Sorry, I thought I had replied to the comments above, but apparently not.

    Mark – I think the responsibility ought be on ‘management’, because regardless of what permits we carry, the application of regulation is always going to be subjective – and it SHOULD be subjective. But it’s always up to the rangers or other law enforcement folks how to apply them – i.e., they should be the ones to do some wildlife awareness licensing. The rules need to be applied with discretion; if someone is bothering an animal, put a stop to it. If someone is not bothering the animals, leave them be.

    Unfortunately, these kinds of institutions LOVE numbers, because they are run by lawyers. So they want to cover their own a**, by saying “50 yard limit” or whatever. That makes it easier for them, but it’s not always reasonable, in my opinion.

    I agree on John Q (and some photographers) ….. we should write a book on crazy stuff we’ve seen.



  4. Mark

    The book is a great idea – could have broad appeal as well if you include non-nature work. Titled “What some people will do for a photograph…” 🙂

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