State to kill some bighorn sheep … to save larger herd

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By Steve Kiggins

Q13 FOX News reporter

NACHES, Wash. — A fast-spreading pneumonia is threatening several herds of bighorn sheep in Yakima County.  As a result, the state plans to kill off some of the animals to save others.

A highway separates 200 bigh0rn sheep in the Cleman herd from the 50 survivors in the Titon herd. The state may have to kill off what’s left of the Titon herd as a precaution so that they don’t infect the Clemans.

“We are hopeful this herd will manage to stay healthy,” said Ted Clausing, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The lambs are coming in the next month or two.”

But state officials said they worry that pneumonia found in the neighboring Tieton herd could wipe out both, if officials don’t step in.

“It’s quite a dramatic episode when these sheep herds get pneumonia, we can see dramatic die-offs — maybe half the herd, a quarter of the herd, maybe even more,” Clausing said. “And what’s worse is, in the following spring, the remaining ewes that survive will either not give birth to lambs at all or those lambs will be so weak they won’t survive.”

Animals in the Cleman herd were tested in January and were clear of pneumonia. But the disease that likely comes from domesticated goats and sheep could easily kill off hundreds of bighorn.

“Because of the proximity of these two herds, that animals from this healthy herd could easily cross over — and if they do and come in contact with a very infectious animal, they could wind up bringing the disease back,” Clausing said.

So the state plans to eliminate the threat next door — to save the healthy (Cleman herd) animals on the hill.

Euthanasia begins within the week; the state plans to put down about 50 sheep.


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  • Dale

    Why kill the bighorn sheep? I realize this herd is infected and the logic is to stop the spread. It is probably too late for the Tieton herd. So, why not treat the problem by treating domestic goats and sheep that pass the pneumonia on to the wild sheep? Isn't that what our farm bureau is supposed to be doing with livestock such as goats and sheep? Keeping them healthy. We haven't eradicated malaria and yellow fever, but we sure put a crimp in those diseases by teaching people about healthier ways to live through personal hygiene and removing areas of stagnant water. Don't recall ever reading about destroying populations to stop the spread of either. Back to the goats and sheep. They are domestic, which means a human owns them . Educate the humans about proper inoculations for their goats and sheep. Those folks can't sell the meat, wool or milk if the animal is diseased.

    • JC Clarke

      Excellent comment – wish you had taken it further and provided links to the deciding officials. Might be political if the domestic herds are prominently owned. Similar arguments are raised when bison wander out of Yellowstone – ranchers scream they will infect their cattle with brucellosis. Yet they know bison are migratory herds, like African wildebeest and its hard to contain them within artificial boundaries when they get the urge to roam. How can we tell native Africans not to poach elephants and gorillas when we can't settle our own wilderness problems?

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