June 6, 2013

Wildlife biologists investigate bighorn sheep deaths

Bighorn sheep near a wildlife guzzler in the Old Dad Mountain range in the Mojave National Preserve. (FILE PHOTO)

by Janet Zimmerman

Wildlife officials are investigating the recent deaths of four bighorn sheep in the desert near Baker to see if the animals died of pneumonia.

The animals were found late last month by a National Park Service employee who was inspecting man-made watering holes, known as guzzlers, on Old Dad Mountain, 15 miles southeast of Baker, according to a news release issued today, June 6.

The employee observed other animals that appeared to be weak and unsteady, with labored breathing. Laboratory analysis of blood and tissue samples taken from one of the animals indicated that it had pneumonia, which is usually fatal to the species.

The bighorn can contract the disease from domestic sheep and goats. Biologists from the Park Service and state Department of Fish and Wildlife are conducting a field survey to determine the scope of the outbreak, the news release said.

Scientists believe there are 200 to 300 desert bighorn around Old Dad Mountain. It is one of the largest native populations in the Mojave Desert, according to Stephanie Dubois, superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve.