North Dakota’s worst pneumonia die-off of Big-Horn sheep in the past 50 years

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An undated images of bighorn sheep in the Badlands.

(SOURCE)  Sheep growers feel they’ve been made black sheep by being blamed for the worst pneumonia die-off of wild bighorn sheep in the state’s 50-year program history.

As of Tuesday, a total of 23 prized bighorn sheep are dead of pneumonia in the northern Badlands habitat, most from a new group brought in from the Northern Rockies of Alberta, Canada. The die-off started in early August and continues, though fatalities are very much slowing the past four weeks.

The Dickinson district Game and Fish biologist who works most closely with the bighorn program believes the illness came from contact with a small, local flock of domestic sheep, because they are known carriers of the specific bacteria micro-plasma ovipneumonia found in the dead bighorns.

Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann continues to hold firm, though the state Game and Fish Department acknowledges now that the connection can’t be made with 100 percent certainty.

“We can’t say that with certainty because we don’t have tests from the domestic sheep,” said Jeb Williams, chief of the state wildlife division.

The agency met with the North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Association and the Board of Animal Health last week. They decided that while there hasn’t been much need to communicate in the past, there is now.

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