Pneumonia detected in the Zion Bighorn Sheep Herd

Bighorn Sheep in Zion National Park

Officials in Zion National Park have become concerned about the park’s herd of bighorn sheep, after discovering that a few sheep had contracted a strain of pneumonia. Park biologists are asking for the public’s help in reporting sick sheep.

In some cases, pneumonia in bighorn sheep can be deadly. Biologists identified a bighorn sheep ewe who was coughing and showing signs of being sick on July 20. After the ewe was safely euthanized for testing, lab tests confirmed that the ewe’s respiratory system had presence of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, the bacteria commonly associated with pneumonia in bighorn sheep.

While biologists test the bighorn herd in Zion regularly, this was the first positive test for pneumonia. After the first ewe was discovered, additional sick bighorns have been found in the park.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) and park officials are working closely to collect information on the spread of the disease and to monitor the bighorns to further understand the risk that this strand of pneumonia poses to the herd. UDWR Bighorn Sheep Biologist, Jace Taylor, stated, “There are many variations of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, and not all are equally lethal to bighorn sheep. At this time, no bighorn sheep in the Zion herd are known to have died from pneumonia.” At this point it is unsure what percentage of the herd’s population will actually be affected.

 Signs that a Sheep has Pneumonia

Park officials are asking visitors to report any sheep that are displaying symptoms of pneumonia, any sheep that are coughing, to help biologists track the illness.

Zion spokeswoman, Aly Baltrus, said in regards to the coughing, “You can hear it from a distance. it’s very much like a human cough.” She also stated that not all strains of pneumonia are deadly to animals, but the strain that is affecting the herd in Zion is.

Signs to be aware of when identifying sick bighorn sheep include:

  • Cough
  • Nasal Discharge
  • Trouble Breathing and
  • Laziness.

While pneumonia is relatively common for bighorn sheep, and they are usually able to fight it but, there is currently no vaccination or cure for it. While this particular strain is harmful to the sheep, it is not dangerous to humans.

Park visitors who come across infected sheep should not make contact with the animal, but should instead report it to the park biologists by calling 435-772-0217 or by emailing information to [email protected].

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