These are just a few of the intriguing questions that are beginning to swirl ever more rapidly around this sub-group of North American thin-horned sheep.
Let's start with what is known. At present, there are only two recognized subspecies of thin-horn sheep in North America - the Dall sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) and the stone sheep (Ovis dalli stonie). The Dall is pure white, with amber hoofs and horns. The stone is dark, varying from shades of gray and brown to nearly black. And the fannin? Well, a fannin is perhaps best described as something in between. They vary from a mostly white sheep peppered with black hair, to a sheep with a gray cast, to something dark enough to be mistaken for a stone on the northern reaches of its range.
The SCI record book describes the fannin as a light-colored sheep with a gray saddle. The B & C record book refers to it as an "intergrade" animal found where the two subspecies meet. They both classify any white sheep with black hair on the body as a stone sheep, rejecting the belief once held that the fannin is a separate subspecies. A white sheep with a black tail is considered a Dall by both organizations.
The Grand Slam Club/OVIS (GSCO) also classifies the fannin as a stone sheep. The organization, however, does not buy into the theory that these sheep are a cross between stones and Dalls. GSCO Executive Director Dennis Campbell says the fact that fannin sheep exist in the northern Yukon disproves this theory, as northern Yukon fannins are geographically isolated from their southern Yukon relatives. That eliminates cross breeding as an explanation for their distinctive coloration, he says. In a recent phone interview, he also noted that fannins are showing up in areas these days where they have never been seen........(continued)