Bighorn sheep die-off after pneumonia epidemic on the National B - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Bighorn sheep die-off after pneumonia epidemic on the National Bison Range

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Photo Credit: Dave Fitzpatrick Photo Credit: Dave Fitzpatrick
National Bison Range -

A pneumonia epidemic has killed 37 bighorned sheep on the National Bison Range - over 20 percent of the population.

Pneumonia has a profound affect in wild sheep. The disease has previously affected other populations of sheep not on the bison range. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services say the first signs of pneumonia showed up in August. Wildlife biologist Amy Lisk says it's not uncommon for sheep to have a cough in late summer, but they noticed increased coughing extending beyond that. 

The first sheep died a few weeks after.

Pneumonia has been detected in 5 samplings so far. Wildlife biologists will continue to send in samplings to look for other variables. 

FSW hasn't nailed down how pneumonia came about, causing the die-off. Lisk says there is no cookie cutter recipe for how these illnesses can affect a population. FSW doesn't know where in the process the sheep are and durations often vary.

The bison range has never seen this high of a mortality rate from one illness among a population.

Lisk says other animals are not in jeopardy, therefore the sheep will not be separated. FSW continues to wait for samplings to come back, but Lisk says something like this has to run its course. 

The NBR is working in cooperation with researcher Jack Hogg of the Montana Conservation Science Institute (MOCSI), to monitor the population throughout the duration of this event and in outlining future research and management options. Lisk says the NBR bighorn sheep population may present a unique opportunity to learn more about the epidemiology of bighorn pneumonia mortality.

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