Fish & Wildlife - Region 3
Monday, December 15, 2014
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is responding to a pneumonia outbreak in the Upper Yellowstone bighorn sheep herd near Gardiner. In the past two weeks, FWP staff members have collected ten dead bighorn sheep – a mix of rams, lambs, and one adult ewe.
The dead bighorn sheep have been brought to the state wildlife lab in Bozeman where all were determined to have died due to pneumonia.
Historically, pneumonia affects bighorn sheep herds differently. According to FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey, “Sometimes we’ll see a large scale, all age die-off in which most of the population dies, and that population never really rebounds. Yet in other herds we seem to see a low-level mortality year after year.”
In the Gardiner area, bighorn sheep have experienced a small number of pneumonia cases each of the last few years, but not to this extent.
It is not possible to detect the exact source of this pneumonia outbreak.
Pneumonia outbreaks have occurred in bighorn sheep populations with no known contact with domestic sheep (or goats). However, research has shown bacteria can be transmitted from healthy domestic sheep (or goats) to bighorn sheep, causing pneumonia in the wild sheep. There are currently domestic sheep flocks in the area.
FWP, within its scope of authority, works to ensure separation of domestic and wild sheep. This includes the lethal removal of any wild sheep known to have been in direct contact with a domestic sheep.
At this point, FWP will continue to intensely monitor this situation.
In the meantime, FWP encourages the public to keep their distance from the Gardiner bighorn sheep especially at this time as they are stressed. We also ask that the people report sick (coughing) or dead sheep to the Region 3 headquarters (or wild sheep in close proximity to domestic sheep) by calling (406) 994-4042.