LEAD — Wildlife biologists have detected an outbreak of pneumonia among bighorn sheep in the Badlands, according to recent reports from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
Trenton Haffley, terrestrial resource supervisor for the department, told members of the Game, Fish and Parks Commission Thursday that in August was when the first bighorn sheep tested positive for pneumonia complex, and by Oct. 7 the department confirmed 24 dead sheep. The pneumonia complex is highly contagious and lethal among the sheep, and is usually passed to the native wild animals from domestic sheep.
“At this point we’re working with Badlands National Park, but we really feel that it is kind of spread through the herd,” Haffley said. “So it’s unfortunately just a sit and wait situation.”
Mycoplasma ovipneumoiae, a pneumonia-causing bacteria, is to blame for many die-offs of bighorn sheep throughout the West. It is the disease that killed most of the bighorns in Custer State Park.
Meanwhile, Haffley said the bighorn sheep herd in the Black Hills continues to be healthy.
“For all the trouble and issues that we’ve had with pneumonia for the last 15 years, we’re pretty confident at this point that there is no pneumonia in the Black Hills sheep herd,” he said. “As afar as we know, the Rapid City herd was our last positive and we got those guys all cleaned up. Deadwood, last year when we were doing some testing in November and December up there it looks like they were all cleaned up. We thought we were really trending in the right direction, until August of this year when we started to see it in the Badlands.”
In addition to pneumonia complex in bighorn sheep, Haffley said the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks is still seeing an EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) outbreak among whitetail deer in western South Dakota. Blue tongue, which is a different, more serious virus from the same family as EHD, has also started to show up more. Haffley reported that blue tongue is starting to present in big horn sheep as well.
“With EHD, we see it widespread like this roughly once every 10 years,” Haffley said. “It’s something that we unfortunately have to deal with.”
The viruses are primarily spread among hoofed animals through biting insects. Once infected with EHD, a deer normally dies within about 36 hours.
Haffley explained that the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks is working hard to make sure hunters know they do not have to fill their tags if they change their mind about hunting this year. Additionally, he said hunters are encouraged to check with landowners about the observations they’ve made about the animals on their land. GF&P website, at https://gfp.sd.gov/maps/#7, also includes information about where biologists are finding EHD deaths.
“We’re telling hunters, if you feel like you don’t want to hunt, we are offering a tag return and you’ll get your money back,” Haffley said. “Just send your tag in to the game, fish and parks and we’ll refund your money, no questions asked. Going forward we’re just going to have to look at how many deer die and we’ll have to adjust licenses accordingly.”