Pneumonia outbreak spreads among bighorns
Wed, Feb 24 2010 at 3:21 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials sprang into action after a local resident reported he’d seen several sheep coughing – a symptom of the fatal respiratory disease. Tests confirmed the diagnosis in two sheep that were shot and removed from the suspected herd by wildlife biologists.
Wildlife biologists and FWP staff are moving quickly to remove animals that are clearly sick and isolate their herds. This will entail the closure of some Conservancy-owned land within the Montana Legacy Project -- between Johnson Creek and Mittower Gulch, just east of Bonner and north of Highway 200.
The closure will begin on Friday, January 15 and will continue for as long as necessary. Conservancy staff has offered to assist the agency in any way possible since much of the closed are is on our land. the aim of the effort is to minimize disturbance of the sheep and isolate infected animals from healthy groups.
The ailment is not known to affect humans or domestic pets, but can lead to die-offs of entire herds.
Bighorn sheep were once numerous in Montana, but populations declined as settlement of the west brought in disease, reduced range and increased hunting of the animals. By 1930, their numbers were reduced to small, remnant bands, and were considered by some to be endangered or rare.
Efforts by wildlife agencies to manage bighorns has helped bring back their numbers, but herds are still subject to occasional die offs and scientists continue to study the causes and possible prevention of this phenomenon.
Last November, 77 of the estimated 225 sheep in the East Fork Bitterroot herd died from a pneumonia outbreak. Early detection of the disease is key to limiting its damage.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
Featured image: b1ubb/Flickr