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Respiratory disease claims most of Antelope Island’s bighorn sheep

Antelope Island Bighorn Sheep

Photo credit: Dreamstime

Utah’s Antelope Island bighorn sheep are dying. The herd, which was comprised of 150 animals during last year’s count, now consists of a mere 26 animals: four rams, 20 ewes and two lambs, KSL.com reports. The rest have succumbed to a respiratory disease—an issue that hadn’t plagued this particular herd in its entire history on the island.

Bighorn sheep were once native to Antelope Island, but after pioneers arrived, they disappeared. There wasn’t an established herd until 1997 when the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) reintroduced 29 bighorn sheep “to create what the division calls a nursery herd, to help start new populations throughout the state and bolster existing ones,” according to UDWR spokesman Mark Hadley.

“Wild bighorn sheep, they're really strong, hearty animals. They're really tough,” said Hadley, who added, “This disease has taken all of the sheep.”

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UDWR says there isn’t a vaccine or medication that can be used for the disease, which can cause the animal to suffer, and has decided it’s best to lethally remove the rest of the herd to prevent further spread and incubation of this fatal respiratory disease. They’ll do this by shooting sheep with a rifle from a helicopter.

“In this situation, we would rather end an animal’s life as fast as we can than allow it to suffer a slow, painful, agonizing type of death,” said Hadley.

UDWR hopes to reestablish a new herd on the island.

“It’ll take a lot of years to build it back up, but we’re excited to be able to start that herd up again at some point in the future,” said Hadley.

Bighorn sheep from the Antelope Island herd are moved to other areas. According to KSL.com, the last time a relocation occurred was in January 2018 and all of those animals “were tested and free of disease.”

Stay tuned to goHUNT for further information.

15 Comments

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SETH D. - posted 2 months ago on 01-24-2019 04:52:43 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Where did you read that it was hoof and mouth?

Alan F. - posted 2 months ago on 01-21-2019 12:42:30 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

If the animals are diseased the DNR most likely doesn't want it to spread. i.e. no trophies or meat can be removed from the island. I would love to give hunters the chance to collect a ram even if it were only to became a mount (no meat), but prudence states that the animals should be destroyed in place to prevent an outbreak of that disease.

Think about it: Once foot and mouth disease is found on a farm all the potential host animals are slaughtered and destroyed on the premise to keep it from spreading. It's a similar situation here but with Bighorn sheep instead of livestock.

SETH D. - posted 2 months ago on 01-21-2019 05:32:44 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

I really think they ought to consider mountain goats, Ibex, Markhor, tahr, chamois or something else?

Stupid to waste Pittman Roberts or hunting conservation dollars on something that is going to die.

What about Tule Elk?

Eric Hardester_10154334241172157
Eric H. - posted 2 months ago on 01-20-2019 05:39:46 pm
Gilbert, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

There are herds of bighorn sheep that have not had ANY lambs make it past the first few months do to these "typhoid mary" type rams and ewes hangin' around those herds. What is different about this particular herd is it is isolated, and was an introduced herd to begin with, so starting over is actually an option.

Eric Hardester_10154334241172157
Eric H. - posted 2 months ago on 01-20-2019 05:35:19 pm
Gilbert, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

@William S. even if any of them survived, it doesn't make the herd stronger, just the individual animal. And worst of all, those that survive will still be carriers, infecting new lambs early on, basically eliminating any chance of recruitment and herd growth.

William S. - posted 2 months ago on 01-20-2019 05:17:21 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

If the herd is isolated, why not wait to see if any survive. Then test to see if they have a gene mutation that allowed the sheep to be immune. Maybe we don't have the sheep genome mapped or maybe it would be too expensive to do. We may be killing the survivors that are truly the fittest. If we are gonna play god we better be sure we have godlike knowledge.

michael_5
Michael G. - posted 3 months ago on 01-18-2019 10:53:29 am
goHUNT INSIDER

It's a bummer all around. But if your goal is to isolate a disease that has mysteriously appeared and wiped out an entire population, the last thing you want to do is allow boots on the ground to hunt, gut and remove meat, blood and animal parts and perhaps spread pathogens all across Utah. Like all of us, my odds of drawing a sheep tag are next to nil. But I'd rather send money to WSF and hopefully increase somebody's odds someday than risk making a bad situation even worse just to fill my lifetime hunt!

Tyler_Houston
Tyler H. - posted 3 months ago on 01-17-2019 07:23:12 am
Reno, NV
goHUNT INSIDER

This happened in Montana in the Tendoy Mountains and they opened the area to let hunters cull all the sheep. It raised funds for the Fish & Wildlife department and cost them nothing rather than charging taxpayers to fly a helicopter and shoot them from the air. Utah could use a lesson in game management sometimes. Ewes eat just as well as rams.

Travis S. - posted 3 months ago on 01-17-2019 06:36:39 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Last year in January (2018) the herd consisted of 150. Last week, 1/9/18 they did a helicopter fly over and only 26 sheep are left. The island is not big and even the sheep do not have places to hide. The DWR has known of this for a long time and only now is taking action. Also rather then open up for cull hunts and raising money to supplement a new sheep heard the greedy UDWR is going to pay themselves to go and cull the sheep. Lots and lots of money could be raised by selling the remaining 4 rams. Could also provide a bucketlist hunt for 4 people, but the DWR isnt smart enough to think like that.

SETH D. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 11:09:18 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Maybe they could stock mountain goats, or Ibex from New Mexico something that won't die if the breeze blows left instead of right.

SETH D. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 11:09:17 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Maybe they could stock mountain goats, or Ibex from New Mexico something that won't die if the breeze blows left instead of right.

SETH D. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 11:08:25 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Even domestic sheep have weak immune systems. You look at them the wrong way and they die.

Hopefully they do an emergency proclamation and sell hunts.

SETH D. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 11:08:25 pm
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Even domestic sheep have weak immune systems. You look at them the wrong way and they die.

Hopefully they do an emergency proclamation and sell hunts.

Eric Hardester_10154334241172157
Eric H. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 05:41:46 pm
Gilbert, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

Just read the ksl article. There are no domestic sheep or mountain goats that they know of on the island. No clues yet to how the disease got there. Real unfortunate. I saw some comments on KSL asking why they aren't waiting to see if the others survive with a built up immunity. Have listened to biologists speak on this, the sheep could survive, but they would still be carriers and transmitters, and the immunity is not passed in to the lambs. Instead, they get it quickly and die quickly. Very very sad.

Eric Hardester_10154334241172157
Eric H. - posted 3 months ago on 01-16-2019 05:33:20 pm
Gilbert, AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

Wow. That is a real tragedy. Do they know how the disease got there? Are there ever domestic sheep on Antelope Island?