- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Wildlife crews aided by nets shot out of a helicopter are spending the weekend helping protect bighorn sheep in the Black Hills from a pneumonia epidemic.

The operation’s first day, Friday, in the Cleghorn Canyon area west of Rapid City trapped one or two sheep at a time - 13 total - to collect blood, fluid and information as part of a research project that could help counteract the disease, the Rapid City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/21o8n5r ).

The team includes experts from South Dakota State University and South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department, and also will do work on the Custer State Park bighorn sheep herd.

The Rapid City herd includes three sub-herds that occupy areas west and southwest of Rapid City and around Hill City. There were a total of about 150 bighorn sheep in the three sub-herds as recently as the mid-2000s, said John Kanta, the parks department’s regional wildlife manager. That number is down to about 60.

“We need this data,” Kanta said. “Disease is the No. 1 limiting factor of bighorn sheep in South Dakota.”

Crews bound the sheep’s legs, blindfolded their eyes and wrapped them upright in orange sling bags with their heads poking out. The bags were attached to the helicopter, which lifted the sheep into the air and took them for a short ride above the treetops. After the bags were untied, the sheep were moved sheep some nearby shade, where they endured poking and prodding for about 10 minutes before being released.

“Just about every state that has bighorn sheep has these problems,” said Jonathan Jenks, a distinguished professor of natural resource management at South Dakota State University.

Bighorn sheep contract pneumonia from contact with domestic sheep and goats. Some adult bighorn sheep can survive the infection, but most bighorn lambs do not.

Researchers have determined that certain bighorn sheep are “chronic shedders” of a pneumonia-linked pathogen.

Jenks and his students are part of a collaborative effort to determine whether identifying and removing the chronic shedders from a herd might protect lambs from infection and allow the herd to grow again.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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