An outbreak of pneumonia among the northern hills’ bighorn sheep population is hindering the growth of the herd, reports the Rapid City Journal. Bighorns were reintroduced to the area almost four years ago, after disappearing completely in the early 1900s.
Wildlife officials hope to return the herds to health by removing the few infected individuals. The pneumonia was originally contracted from domestic sheep in the area and then spread to the wild herds maintained by Game, Fish and Parks. Twenty-five of the 26 animals originally brought to South Dakota from Canada have since died. The pneumonia does not always kill the infected animals, however, and some remain outwardly healthy, but can then infect new lambs, who are more susceptible to the disease.
The Deadwood herd has seen high mortality rates since 2016, caused by vehicle collisions, cliff falls, and pneumonia, bringing the total population down to 17 animals, according to Game, Fish and Parks’ most recent count. Rapid City and Custer State Park’s herds have also been heavily affected by pneumonia, but herds in Jew Cave National Monument, Badlands National Park, and Elk Mountain have remained healthy.
Currently, Game, Fish and Parks is working to remove infected adults from the Rapid City herd. Once the disease has been purged there, the plan is to move on to the Deadwood herd. Officials remain hopeful about herd growth once the pneumonia outbreak has been cleaned up.
Learn more about wildlife in the Black Hills at the Black Hills Knowledge Network news archive.