A few bighorn sheep in the Zions National Park herd have been diagnosed with a sheep-specific strain of pneumonia. While the number of infected sheep is currently less than 10, that number could change every day and two sheep have already been euthanized for testing.
“This specific pathogen is not harmful to humans, or their pets, or even their livestock," said Jace Taylor, a biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "It can be carried only by wild bighorn sheep and mountain goats and then also domestic sheep and goats. It’s most harmful for bighorn sheep.”
As for figuring out where the animals contracted the disease, biologists may never know.
“We’ll take the samples that Zions National Park has collected and we’ll be able to run some more specific tests and try to isolate exactly what strains of pathogens they have and that might help us somewhat," Taylor said. "But, we may never know. There is a number of ways they could’ve gotten it. It may be impossible to tell.”
Biologists are asking visitors to report any coughing sheep, seeing as it’s the most obvious symptom of the disease.
“It’s unfortunate but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s entirely unexpected," Taylor said. "We’ll do what we can do and have a healthy herd going forward.”
Biologists can be reached at 435-772-0217 or Zion_Park_Information@nps.gov.