Wyoming Game and Fish officials find pneumonia in Whiskey Basin bighorn sheep

Wyoming Game and Fish officials find pneumonia in Whiskey Basin bighorn sheep

G&F biologists work to find initial cause of outbreak

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GREEN RIVER -- Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists are keeping a close watch on bighorn sheep in the Whiskey Mountain herd after recently documenting some animals with pneumonia.

Agency spokesman Mark Gocke said the herd -- located in the Wind River range near Dubois -- has struggled with several bouts of the disease over the years.

He four other Western states have discovered bacterial pneumonia outbreaks in at least 10 bighorn sheep populations over the past several months.

In some cases, a significant number of bighorn sheep died after being infected, or were lethally removed by state wildlife personnel for diagnostic purposes.

"Although it is not uncommon for sheep to show signs of pneumonia, the fact that this herd has already experienced significant die-offs in the past, and that other Western states have been reporting similar problems, it does raise our level of concern," wildlife biologist Greg Anderson said.

Agency officials are asking the public to notify Game and Fish as soon as possible if anyone observes bighorn sheep showing signs of pneumonia.

Those signs include bouts of deep coughing, obvious nasal discharge or other abnormal behavior.

Anderson said early action could help minimize the potential ramifications of a bighorn sheep pneumonia outbreak.

Wildlife disease specialist Hank Edwards said agency personnel have undertaken the complicated task of identifying the initial cause of pneumonia in the Whiskey Basin herd.

In some cases, animals become weakened because of environmental stresses or other diseases. As the pneumonia progresses, other organisms quickly colonize the diseased tissue, making culture and isolation difficult.

"Unfortunately, (lethally) removing sick animals is our best chance at identifying the original pathogen," Edwards said.

He said it's important to identify the original pathogen "in order to know what management options you might have for containing the disease."

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