Nine (four female, five male) captive adult Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) contracted brucellosis caused by Brucella abortus biovar 4 as a result of natural exposure to an aborted elk (Cervus elaphus) fetus. Clinical signs of infection were orchitis and epididymitis in males and lymphadenitis and placentitis with abortion in females. Gross pathologic findings included enlargement of the testes or epididymides, or both, and yellow caseous abscesses and pyogranulomas of the same. Brucella abortus biovar 4 was cultured in all bighorn sheep from a variety of tissues, including testes/epididymides, mammary gland, and lymph nodes. All bighorn sheep tested were positive on a variety of standard Brucella serologic tests. This is the first report of brucellosis caused by B. abortus in Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. It also provides evidence that bighorn sheep develop many of the manifestations ascribed to this disease and that infection can occur from natural exposure to an aborted fetus from another species. Wildlife managers responsible for bighorn sheep populations sympatric with Brucella-infected elk or bison (Bison bison) should be cognizant of the possibility of this disease in bighorn sheep.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2