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Forty Bighorn Sheep in Devil’s Canyon are dead from a disease outbreak

Bighorn sheep
Magnus Kjaergaard via Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

A herd of bighorn sheep northeast of Lovell is experiencing a disease outbreak. Forty bighorn sheep in the Devil’s Canyon herd have died since Oct. 14.

The bacterial strain they’re infected with causes lethal pneumonia in bighorn sheep. The source of the bacteria is still unknown. Corey Class, Cody’s regional wildlife management coordinator, said this strain was identified in a Laramie Peak herd a couple years back.

He said the herd experienced a decrease in population but they are doing okay now. Class said he doesn’t think the whole Devil’s Canyon herd will be lost, even though currently about 10 percent of its population has died.

“It's not that much bigger of a hit than we would have taken when we do translocations,” he said. “And really, in reality, we feel like periodic translocations have been what's kept this herd so healthy over the years, not letting it get to be too dense of a population.”

The department knows that this disease kills quickly, so removing the dead animals and removing any sheep that exhibit symptoms are the current management tools.

“And we don't know for sure, but there is a chance that this, for lack of a more scientific term, burns through the population quicker to a point where it just goes away because it kills the host so quickly,” said Class.

A majority of this herd was brought to the area from Montana. Class said if the entire herd was lost (which he said is very unlikely), it wouldn’t necessarily change the environment. But it would greatly change the sheep management program, and the ability of the department to offer hunting opportunities. The herd is popular for bighorn sheep hunters.

The herd is estimated to have about 300 sheep in it. Twenty-four of the sheep are collared with GPS tracking devices, which will help monitor the disease.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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