Pneumonia Reported in Yellowstone Bighorn Sheep

The Associated Press is reporting that a bighorn sheep lamb in Yellowstone National Park has pneumonia. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has been tracking sheep in the Gardiner area just north of Yellowstone National Park since reports of coughing bighorn were given to them in early December. In response FWP has killed 5 sheep but it appears that pneumonia has spread into Yellowstone National Park where there is a larger population of bighorn sheep.

Bighorn Sheep in Yellowstone National Park © Ken Cole

The article also mentions that FWP speculates that the pneumonia may have been contracted from domestic sheep. Hopefully more details will emerge but this is potentially very bad news for the bighorn sheep of Yellowstone National Park.

For those unfamiliar with this issue, domestic sheep carry organisms which can result in deadly pneumonia among bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep have little to no immunity to these diseases and when a herd becomes infected 90% of a herd can succumb to pneumonia. The effects of the disease can linger in a herd for a decade or more resulting in high rates of mortality among lambs.  I have written about the issue and the controversy surrounding it here.

Montana wildlife officials track sick bighorn herd in Park County
Associated Press


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I am so angry! Every year livestock interests harm Yellowstone wildlife more and more with their diseases and political interventions.

    If Yellowstone’s bighorn sheep die off now, justice says grazing permittees should pay to restore the population. Of course, for most of them their enterprise is so marginal they couldn’t pay.

  2. Jeff Avatar

    That sucks—NPS policy will probably be to let it run it’s course vs the states have been proactively killing sick and exposed sheep

  3. Craig Avatar

    That sucks! There was a very good number of lambs this year and we took a lot of pics! Hope it’s very limited to the spread of this!

  4. Salle Avatar

    Unfortunately this is the kind of situation caused, in part, by the F&G and public lands management agencies siding with/acquiescence to livestock industries (the almighty $$) rather than adopting management policies with regard to the well-being of wildlife… especially on public lands which they are charged with protecting for the public. Stewardship my hind foot.

  5. Ken Cole Avatar

    If this outbreak occurred because of interaction with domestic sheep, which I am pretty sure is true, then it either happened on private land or was transmitted and carried to the rest of the bighorn sheep herd from someplace else. Looking at the mapping that I have, indicates that there is no sheep grazing permitted on USFS or BLM lands in the vicinity of where it was first identified.

    I am somewhat familiar with the area but I have never seen any domestic sheep there. That being said, there could easily be a single or even a small herd of domestic sheep or goats in the area.

    This is a problem that is very difficult to deal with. Many rural residents in the west are violently opposed to any kind of regulation of their private property but, if we are to honestly deal with this disease issue, the idea needs to be examined.

    It’s not as if urban residents don’t have all kinds of regulation. I can’t have a horse or sheep on my private property, in fact, I can’t even own a rooster and there is a move to make it so that I can’t turn my front lawn into a garden here in Boise.

    So when rural residents complain about private property rights I don’t have a bunch of sympathy. I am regulated to a huge degree in what I can do with my own property and for good reason (mostly). I don’t want to wake up to someone’s rooster at 4:00 every morning and there are other things that neighbors just do so as not to piss everyone else off.

    I don’t think rural residents should get off the hook easily when their animals can potentially wipe out an entire publicly owned bighorn sheep herd.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      From what I understand I could take just one person’s goat or lamb to do this.

      1. Ken Cole Avatar

        That’s true since virtually every goat and lamb is a carrier of the diseases that kill bighorn sheep.

  6. Jeff Avatar

    There are some sheep in paradise valley-they may be on private property but as Ralph said it doesn’t need to big allotment

  7. Doryfun Avatar

    Sad indeed. Fresh out of college in 71, I worked briefly as a field biolologist gathering data on Bighorn Sheep in the region of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River for research biologist Bill Hickey.

    Even back then, most of this disease information was available, and highly suspect, meeting the same resistance as today. Transmittal mechanisms may be known a bit more now, but the tragic thing is it doesn’t seem to matter. What does it say much for the progress for our management of bighorns? It just seems to demonstrate that we ever learn much from history, (politically, anyway).

    With everyone trying to figure out how to feed our own families, other communities of fisheries and wildlife will probably play second fiddle.

    My face is red with frustration too, with all the current ill- politics surrounding the management of our common natural resources.

    Business as usual. One step forward, two steps back. If I stood on my head, it would appear I had a smile on my face for optimism. Saddly, only an illusion.


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Ken Cole