Bighorn sheep don’t sound good coughing. And biologists warn it’s the sign of sheeps’ number one killer - pneumonia.
The respiratory disease is why the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources adopted new management numbers last week, aiming to double the population of sheep in the state.
“They live in incredibly rugged terrain, they’re really tough animals, but they have this susceptibility to respiratory disease," said Jace Taylor, the bighorn sheep and mountain goat biologist for the division. "Often times when a herd gets it, it can be passed on for generations.”
Taylor said some sheep can handle the infection, but for juvenile sheep, pneumonia can be fatal.
In November 2018, disease wiped out all of the sheep on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. With new management numbers, the division is looking to reestablish a herd of bighorn on the island, and will be releasing 35 healthy individuals in January.
Taylor said the sheep are synonymous with the West, and protecting them is vital for the ecosystems.
“Bighorn are hard," he said. "There is no herd in the state that is immune to respiratory disease or entirely safe from the risks, it is important part for every one of our herds to be managed with intensive care.”
The pathogen is often spread from domestic sheep, which don’t show symptoms, so Taylor said it is important that humans admire wild bighorn from a distance, to not spread anything.