Wyoming herd of big horn sheep loses 10% of its population to disease

Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-24 20:25:16-04

WYOMING — About 75 miles south of Billings, 10% of the Devil’s Canyon bighorn sheep herd has been wiped out by a strain of contagious bacteria. Wyoming Game and Fish are using GPS tracking collars to monitor the situation.

“Sheep are really iconic species and certainly something everybody enjoys seeing. So it’s really hard, difficult for everybody, including us to see that many dead,” said Corey Class, Wyoming Game and Fish regional wildlife management coordinator on Monday.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is home to all sorts of wildlife, and bighorn sheep are no exception.

It was on Oct. 15 when Class was notified that people were finding dead sheep in the Bighorn Mountains.

“I think we found 19 that day that were dead,” Class said.

Since then, that number has doubled to 37 dead sheep out of a herd of 300. Wyoming Game and Fish sent samples from the dead sheep to its lab in Laramie and received results a week later.

“It was Mannheimia haemolytica, which is a fancy way of saying something that causes pneumonia very fast and kills sheep relatively quickly,” said Class.

Game and Fish removed the carcasses from the area to prevent any potential spread of the disease. They also removed any sheep that exhibited symptoms.

“We had quite a few collars out there, GPS collars on sheep. That’s really good news. It’ll help us monitor this situation as it moves forward,” Class said.

As of Monday, there have been no new reports on sheep fatalities from the Devil’s Canyon bighorn sheep herd.

“We’re hoping that we’ve seen the worst of it and we can move through this without a ton more loss to the sheep herd,” said Class.