A Jackson Hole man lost his job and housing after taking home a young bighorn sheep that was acting out of sorts.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department warden Kyle Lash received a report of the potentially illegal animal possession early last week and was initially told the lamb was taken as a stunt to impress friends. But after investigating the incident and reviewing photos and footage of its capture and release, the warden didn’t find any evidence of purposeful wrongdoing.
“To be consistent with past cases, a warning was issued on this since I couldn’t prove the malicious act,” Lash told the News&Guide. “I said, ‘What happened?’ and he said, ‘I think it lost its mom.’”
The man was a short-term resident from Florida, and he told Lash his plan was to bring the orphaned animal into the Wyoming Game and Fish Department office. But the lamb was detained on a weekend when the office was closed, and friends told him that he should put the months-old ungulate back where he found it — and he did.
Lash reviewed cellphone videos that showed the man found the “funky”-behaving lamb down Flat Creek Road past the National Elk Refuge boundary around 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21. His dog was “bouncing around” and “licking” the sheep, which was lying on the ground.
Lash also reviewed a video of the sheep running off in the same area date-stamped 8:49 p.m. the same night.
“He showed me a video of him releasing it, saying, ‘Go find your mother!’” Lash said. “I was able to determine he had possession of it for about an hour and a half.”
In that time, however, the wild bighorn did spend some time in the man’s former quarters. A photo has circulated of the young sheep lying on a couch next to a person looking at a phone.
When people encounter baby wildlife, wildlife managers recommend leaving them be. That’s true even if an animal is acting unusual or sick, which was the case with the bighorn sheep lamb driven off the Bridger-Teton National Forest in a Jeep.
“If you find wildlife, don’t approach it,” Lash said. “Documenting with GPS points and giving us a shout would be the best.”
“We get a lot of these,” he added, “and I think everybody just wants to help.”
While a brought-home bighorn lamb was a first for this Wyoming warden, he’s handled plenty of calls over the years of young pronghorn and deer that were encountered and taken home by people who meant well. While stationed in Cheyenne earlier in his career, such calls in the early summer were basically a weekly occurrence.
“I think it’s common human behavior,” Lash said of the urge to “save” young animals that are all alone.
The News&Guide was able to reach the person Lash warned, who said he lost his job and housing in the aftermath of taking the baby bighorn sheep home. The man otherwise declined to comment and asked that his name not be used in this story. The request was granted because he was not charged with a crime.