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Pneumonia Threatens Nevada's Desert Bighorn Sheep

PHOTO: State wildlife officials are concerned about a potentially deadly pneumonia strain turning up in Nevada's desert bighorn sheep. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
PHOTO: State wildlife officials are concerned about a potentially deadly pneumonia strain turning up in Nevada's desert bighorn sheep. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
February 25, 2014

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Nevada's prosperous population of desert bighorn sheep is facing a potentially deadly health threat. Doug Nielsen, regional conservation education supervisor, Nevada Department of Wildlife, said animals that populate several mountain ranges in southern Nevada have tested positive for a pathogen linked to a strain of pneumonia that killed bighorn in the past.

He said it wiped out a big number of bighorn in California's Mojave Desert last summer.

"That strain of pneumonia actually killed at least 100 sheep," Nielsen said.

There is no known way to treat the desert bighorns suffering with the pneumonia, he said, adding that it may be a case of nature taking its course.

Nevada has the biggest population of bighorn sheep in the Lower 48 - about 11,000 animals, Nielsen said. The existence of pneumonia also limits the state's ability to continue transplanting the animals to other states that need more bighorns, he warned.

"It's definitely something that could have an impact for a long period of time on some of our sheep herds and on our ability to help not only other states with their conservation programs but also other regions within our state," Nielsen said.

Nevada has given bighorn sheep to Colorado, Texas and other states to help bolster populations, he explained. The biggest health threat to bighorn sheep, he said, continues to be sickness and disease picked up from domestic sheep.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NV