Introduced disease is a major mortality factor in some populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). Epizootics of infectious keratoconjunctivitis (IKC) and contagious ecthyma occurred in bighorn sheep in the Silver Bell Mountains of south-central Arizona, USA, from 1 December 2003 to 31 March 2004. Our objectives were to 1) investigate the influence of the epizootic on abundance and demographics and 2) examine how IKC affected the mortality, behavior, and movements of clinically affected animals. Morbidity was 39%, and all sex and age classes were affected. The population declined 23%, with most mortality in the adult female (1 M, 11 F) segment of the population. Of the diseased animals that were marked (n = 27), 44% recovered and 44% died. Predation (50%) and starvation (33%) were the primary causes of mortality of diseased bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep that were infected spent less time feeding and moved less than noninfected animals during the epizootic. Managers might be able to minimize losses of infected animals through predator control. To minimize losses to starvation, managers should refrain from any activity that disturbs infected animals (including treatment) because disturbances increase energy expenditures and expose infected animals to injury.
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Vol. 71 • No. 2