Anecdotal evidence of a pneumonia epizootic among bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, USA, during the mid-1990s prompted park officials to examine the current condition of the herds. Here we present a mark–resight study design to estimate population abundance that, in many circumstances, is a reliable and cost-effective alternative to traditional mark–recapture or to indices of population abundance. We captured 59 adult females and radiocollared them via helicopter net-gunning during winter 2002–2003. From ground resighting surveys conducted May–September, we estimated the total RMNP bighorn population at 389.9 (SE = 34.9, CI = 327.2–464.6) in 2003 and 366.4 (SE = 34.7, CI = 304.4–441.0) in 2004. Previous abundance estimates suggest a park-wide decline has occurred between the late 1980s and the suspected pneumonia epidemic of the mid-1990s. Although the 2 years of data from our study are not enough to predict whether the herds are capable of recovering to previous levels, they provide park officials the tools necessary to make the most informed decisions for future monitoring and management of this fragile species.
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Vol. 71 • No. 1