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BC bighorns are dying


BC Bighorn
Photo credit: Shutterstock

British Columbia (B.C.) bighorn sheep are dying and officials have identified the problem: contact with domestic sheep. Like many wild herds across the U.S., BC bighorns are also incredibly susceptible to pneumonia and this particular strain is one that domestic sheep appear to be immune to.

Since 2013, the Chasm herd that resides near Clinton, B.C., has declined dramatically, decreasing from 110 to 28 bighorns since the last tally, according to the CBC. Yet the only true solution to the epidemic that seems to be spreading is to keep the wild sheep completely separated from its domestic counterpart. Then, wild bighorns could stabilize and possibly recover.

Continued below.

"If we keep the two species separated, that's our ultimate goal. If we can achieve that, we'll have healthy wild sheep and healthy domestic sheep farms," says Chris Barker, director of the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. 

Barker adds that this particular strain is so strong that many wild bighorns die within five days after coming into contact with the virus. Yet, because the virus is airborne, dual fences must be erected that stand at least 30’ apart in order to keep the virus from impacting neighboring herds, according to the CBC. Additionally, any wild sheep that comes into contact with domestic sheep are eliminated immediately so that pneumonia will not continue into the otherwise healthy herd.

"We have a policy in place that if wild sheep have contact with domestic sheep, then you phone a conservation officer," says Barker. "The conservation officer will go out and take that animal out of the equation so that it doesn't go back and actually endanger the healthy sheep population."

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