Bighorn Sheep Disease
6:08 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Northwest’s Wild Bighorn Sheep See No Relief From Pneumonia Outbreaks

Bighorn sheep in the Northwest have their lambs in early spring. About now, those babies start playing together in the mountains. It’s sort of like lamby daycare. But that sweet, social behavior is spreading a deadly disease in several herds throughout the region.

Pneumonia is often deadly in Bighorn sheep.
Pneumonia is often deadly in Bighorn sheep.
Credit Jack Barrie / Wikimedia

It’s sad, but just as lambs get a bit more adventurous and start to socialize they are at greater risk for infection. In this case, it’s strains of very contagious bacterial pneumonia. The respiratory disease is common in domestic sheep and goats, but doesn’t usually kill those animals. However, in the bighorn sheep, it’s often deadly. Generally, the problem is adult bighorns can wander great distances and mingle with domestic animals.
Then they bring the infection back to their wild herd. It hits the lambs the hardest. Rich Harris helps manage bighorns for Washington State Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s tough when the disease comes from something that has to do with humans’ impact on the land,” said Harris.

Dozens of lambs have been lost in the Northwest so far this spring, especially near Yakima and Hells Canyon that spans Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Washington State University is helping to research the disease and its causes - but as of now there is no solution.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network