A pneumonia epidemic reduced bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) survival and recruitment during 1997–2000 in a population comprised of three interconnected wintering herds (Kenosha Mountains, Sugarloaf Mountain, Twin Eagles) that inhabited the Kenosha and Tarryall Mountain ranges in central Colorado, USA. The onset of this epidemic coincided temporally and spatially with the appearance of a single domestic sheep (Ovis aires) on the Sugarloaf Mountain herd's winter range in December 1997. Although only bighorns in the Sugarloaf Mountain herd were affected in 1997–98, cases also occurred during 1998–99 in the other two wintering herds, likely after the epidemic spread via established seasonal movements of male bighorns. In all, we located 86 bighorn carcasses during 1997–2000. Three species of Pasteurella were isolated in various combinations from affected lung tissues from 20 bighorn carcasses where tissues were available and suitable for diagnostic evaluation; with one exception, β-hemolytic mannheimia (Pasteurella) haemolytica (primarily reported as biogroup 1G or 1αG) was isolated from lung tissues of cases evaluated during winter 1997–98. The epidemic dramatically lowered adult bighorn monthly survival in all three herds; a model that included an acute epidemic effect, differing between sexes and with vaccination status, that diminished linearly over the next 12 mo best represented field data. In addition to the direct mortality associated with epidemics in these three herds, lamb recruitment in years following the pneumonia epidemic also was depressed as compared to years prior to the epidemic. Based on observations presented here, pasteurellosis epidemics in free-ranging bighorn sheep can arise through incursion of domestic sheep onto native ranges, and thus minimizing contact between domestic and bighorn sheep appears to be a logical principle for bighorn sheep conservation.
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Vol. 44 • No. 2