Bighorn sheep are dying off in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge area and the state Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) is trying to find out why.
Researchers know the bighorn lambs are dying young and pneumonia is the cause, but Todd Nordeen, NGPC big game research and disease program manager, wants to pinpoint what is triggering the illness.
“Our intentions are to try to come back next spring with some treatment options – some potential vaccines targeting these specific strain types or antibiotics that we might be able to inject the lambs with up there and see if we can make some headway,” Nordeen tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Twenty-one lambs died this spring, which Nordeen says was the third year of noticeable deaths in the Pine Ridge herd.
“Now we’ve dropped down to about 300 total (bighorns), but in our Pine Ridge herd, those numbers are significantly lower, and probably the lowest they’ve been since some of the reintroductions several years ago,” he says. “It’s a concern up there in particular.”
He says bighorns in the Wildcat Hills area seem to be unaffected by the illness.
“I’m sure if the same bacteria were to get into the Wildcat Hills, we’d probably see similar results,” Nordeen says. “Fortunately, there’s enough separation with them that we haven’t had to deal with any transmission that way. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way.”
While NGPC officials are concerned about the deadly illness, it is not preventing any hunting at this time.
“We still have some sheep that have grown to adulthood and we have some older rams out there that certainly allow for a hunting season or an opportunity for harvest,” Nordeen says.