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(Neb)-Game And Parks Studying Deaths Of Bighorn Lambs  Listen

By: John Axtell Posted at: 08/02/2017 11:57 PM
ALLIANCE - Nebraska Game and Parks biologists hope a new research project can come up with some answers to the disease problems plaguing the bighorn sheep herds in the Pine Ridge.

      Big game research and disease program manager Todd Nordeen says the bighorn population in the Pine Ridge has been dropping the past 3 years because of big losses in lambs, including all 21 lambs equipped with tracking collars this May and June - almost all killed by pneumonia.

    It was the second straight year with nearly no lambs surviving in the Pine Ridge, which is doubly frustrating to Nordeen and other biologists because the bighorn herds in the Wildcat Hills south of Gering are thriving and now account for about185 of the state's roughly 300 bighorn.

     While pneumonia is the cause of the loss of the Pine Ridge lambs, Nordeen wants to know what pathogens specifically are triggering the disease. A lamb-tracking project last winter was a big first step in that effort.

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Nordeen says the collared lambs died from pneumonia in 4 to 57 days after birth, most in 30-45 days. He knows of only one lamb, a non-collared specimen, still living in the Pine Ridge.

     Samples from the dead lambs were shipped to the University of Nebraska for testing to try to determine the specific bacteria responsible for the type of pneumonia killing them. Nordeen says the hope is to develop a plan, possibly immunizing animals in the wild.

      Nordeen says "without any lambs our herd sizes in the Pine Ridge are going nowhere but down (and if) we don't do something, we won't have bighorn sheep in northwest Nebraska.

     The Audubon's subspecies of bighorn sheep was native to the  the Panhandle, but died out by the early 1900s because of disease, unregulated hunting and habitat loss. The Audubon's sheep was officially listed as extinct in 1925.

     Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from Custer State Park were reintroduced to Nebraska at Fort Robinson State Park in 1981 and released to the wild beginning in 1988.Sheep from Montana, Canada and Colorado  were released in 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2012...resulting in 3 herds in the Pine Ridge and 2 in the Wildcat Hills south of Gering and east to McGrew.


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