Scientists search for clues to disease outbreak in bighorn sheep

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Date: June 6, 2013
Contact: Linda Slater, National Park Service, 760 252-6122
Contact: Mike Taugher, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, 916 591-0140

BARSTOW, CALIF. –A National Park Service employee who was inspecting wildlife guzzlers found four desert bighorn dead on Old Dad Mountain, 15 miles southeast of Baker, California, during the week of May 20. The employee also observed other sick animals that appeared to be weak and unsteady with labored breathing. Laboratoryanalysis of blood and tissue samples taken from one animal indicated that it had pneumonia. This disease may be acquired in desert bighorn populations from domestic sheep or goats and is usually fatal to bighorn.

Biologists from the National Park Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife are conducting a field survey to determine the scope of this wildlife disease outbreak. Using volunteers from the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep and the Sierra Club to expand their capacity, biologists are visiting springs and guzzlers where bighorn congregate on Old Dad Mountain and in nearby areas to determine the extent and seriousness of the problem.

"While we do not yet know the full extent of this disease event, we are taking this situation seriously. Bighorn sheep are highly susceptible to pneumonia," said Ben Gonzales, Senior Wildlife Veterinarian with CDFW's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory.

Scientists believe there are 200 to 300 desert bighorn in this particular population.

"The herd of desert bighorn sheep in the Old Dad Mountain area is one of the largest native populations in the Mojave Desert," said Mojave National Preserve Superintendent Stephanie Dubois. "Scientists from the National Park Service andCalifornia Department of Fish and Wildlife and working together to learn all they can about this disease outbreak so that we can do everything possible to reduce its impact."

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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