Cody – The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has documented an outbreak of disease in the Devil’s Canyon sheep herd northeast of Lovell.
“Since Oct. 14, Game and Fish has documented 37 bighorn sheep deaths in the Devil’s Canyon herd, which constitutes approximately 10% of the population,” said Corey Class, wildlife management coordinator for the region. from Cody. “The majority of deaths have occurred in ewes and lambs.”
Game and Fish were first alerted to the death by a report from a landowner and a mortality signal from a bighorn sheep with a GPS collar in the herd.
“We worked closely with a local landowner who played a key role in managing and monitoring this outbreak,” Class said. “We greatly appreciate their help and cooperation.”
On October 16, Game and Fish collected biological samples including nasal and tonsil swabs and tissue from bighorn sheep carcasses at the site.
The samples were sent to the Game and Fish Wildlife Health Laboratory in Laramie for analysis where a pathogenic strain of the bacteria Mannheimia haemolytica was cultivated. This type of strain is known to cause fatal pneumonia in sheep. The source of infection is unknown.
Game and Fish is actively monitoring the population and any potential spread of pneumonia. Currently, 24 bighorn sheep in this herd are fitted with GPS tracking collars to monitor distribution, habitat use, seasonal movements, annual recruitment and survival rates.
“The collars will now help us monitor bighorn sheep populations from a disease perspective and document additional mortalities,” Class said.
All bighorn sheep carcasses are culled to reduce the spread of disease.
“Our limited experience with this pathogen gives us some hope that the outbreak will run its course quickly, with minimal mortality,” said Wildlife Health Laboratory supervisor Hank Edwards.
The Devil’s Canyon bighorn sheep herd (Hunting Area 12) is located in the northwestern part of the Bighorn Mountains. This population is estimated at 250-300 individuals.