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Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
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Conservation in action!
CPW Traps & Relocates 24 Bighorn Sheep to Repopulate Herd Decimated by Disease

How do you transplant sheep? ​​Watch the action-packed short video below and read the news release​.

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Biologists do a health work-up on a sheep​Why did we go to the huge effort to catch and transplant these 24 wild bighorns? 

Pneumonia outbreaks in bighorn sheep herds can cause major die-offs, reducing populations by 50% or more. Even some individuals who survive the initial die-off may become chronic shedders of bacteria. They may survive for years and spread pneumonia to lambs, causing them to die by about 4 months of age. For some herds, not enough lambs are produced to replace the adults who die from other causes (predation, accidents). Despite years of research, we currently have no way of treating bighorn sheep for pneumonia.

In the early-2000's, CPW recognized something was wrong in a herd of sheep northeast of Salida. CPW biologists and officers observed a number of lambs in the in the Gribble's Park/Badger Creek herd during the summer, but by December, few or no lambs remained. This pattern occurred for seven years and the population continued to drop. The adults in the herd tested positive for the bacteria known to cause pneumonia. In an attempt to save the herd, we tried several options, from feeding supplements to vaccination. Nothing worked.

With approval by the Parks and Wildlife Commission, CPW made the difficult decision to depopulate the remaining sheep from the area. In March 2013, we removed 13 ewes from the area and brought them into captivity to learn more about how pneumonia affects bighorn sheep. At the same time, we committed to transplanting bighorns from healthy sheep herds to try to reestablish the population.
 

Fast forward to 2018

The Rampart sheep herd, near Colorado Springs, has been increasing in population ever since the Waldo Canyon fire ripped through their habitat in 2012. In fact, the Rampart sheep herd had increased to approximately 115 sheep. Biologists began to worry that the number of sheep inhabiting the small area would degrade their habitat. Rampart had sheep to give…and Badger Creek could use them. 
 
On February 5, 2018, we caught 24 wild bighorns, including 3 rams, 8 ewes and 13 lambs, and transplanted them to Badger Creek. Our hope is these bighorn sheep will colonize the area and produce a thriving population in Badger Creek. 

Some may be asking "What happened to the 13 ewes that were removed from Gribbles Park?"​

Sheep released from trailer
The veterinarians confirmed that the ewes were sick with chronic pneumonia and that they were spreading the disease to their lambs. Attempts to treat the ewes for the disease, even in captivity, were unsuccessful. Eventually, all of the ewes succumbed to disease or were humanely euthanized. However, the veterinarians learned a lot from these ewes about the bacteria that cause pneumonia in bighorn and how the disease is spread among individuals. They used this knowledge to develop tools that will allow us to more quickly diagnose sick bighorns and respond to die-offs in herds. One of those tests was evaluated on the Rampart sheep captured for the 2018 transplant. 

You can read more about the Gribble’s Park bighorns, the efforts to save the herd, and lessons learned from the captive individuals in these two publications:​


Sirochman, M. A., K. J. Woodruff, J. L. Grigg, D. P. Walsh, K. P. Huyvaert, M. W. Miller, and L. L. Wolfe. 2012. Evaluation of management treatments intended to increase lamb recruitment in a bighorn sheep herd. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 48:781-784.

Wood, M. E., K. A. Fox, J. Jennings-Gaines, H. J. Killion, S. Amundson, M. W. Miller, and W. H. Edwards. 2017. How respiratory pathogens contribute to lamb mortality in a poorly performing bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) herd. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 53:126-130. ​


Livin' the Wildlife: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ​


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Bighorn rams​Overview

Despite its iconic status and current prominence, the bighorn sheep was near extinction at the turn of the century. Diseases introduced​ through European livestock and unregulated hunting had decimated populations throughout the West, and only a small number of the native sheep remained in Colorado in the early 1900s.

Why Are Bighorn Sheep Important?

Majestic and agile, the Rocky Mountain bighorn shee​​​p is a prominent figure on the steep and jagged walls of Colorado's canyons. 

What Is CPW Doing?​

In cooperation with the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, we have spent decades rebuilding sheep populations through trapping and relocation efforts. CPW conducted the first sheep transplants in the 1940s, including planting bighorns between Georgetown and Silver Plume. Known simply as the "Georgetown Herd," this population of 250-350 sheep is one of the largest herds in the state and the area has become one of the most popular sheep viewing sites in the nation. 
 

Since Colorado's restoration efforts began, CPW has completed more than 100 bighorn sheep transplants, most of which took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Gore Canyon in northwest Colorado is one of the most recent transplant locations. CPW closely monitors bighorn sheep herds and maintains healthy populations through controlled hunting and ongoing trapping and relocation. Thanks to decades of dedicated conservation efforts, Colorado's iconic bighorn sheep are once again abundant with an estimated statewide population of 7,000 animals.​​​