Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep visiting the cliffs above Circle K in Clifton.

ARIZONA—The Arizona Game and Fish Department is taking action this month to protect Arizona's bighorn sheep population.

In a release from the organization last week, the AZGFD expressed concern over the escape of domestic sheep from its enclosures, leading to worries that diseases prevalent in the animals could threaten the wild population. “Starting as far back as late September, an estimated 300 domestic sheep escaped temporary grazing areas on private land. Some have been rounded up, but an unknown number with contagious diseases known to kill bighorns are unaccounted for. The escaped domestic sheep dispersed into bighorn sheep habitat in Yuma County,” the department wrote.

As a result of witnessing the wild population mixing with the escaped domestic creatures, the agency said it took steps to prevent the transmission of diseases. AZGFD regional supervisor Mike Sumner confirmed that this resulted in a small number of bighorn sheep being euthanized. “This is something no wildlife biologist wants to undertake, but to protect the 700-800 bighorn sheep that live in these mountains, we had to euthanize some individuals that had come in contact with domestic sheep,” he said. “We value these individual animals, but must manage for the health of the whole bighorn population.”

A menace to some and a blessing to others, Arizona's bighorn sheep are a often seen grazing on local lawns in Clifton and Morenci. Populations throughout the nation are prone to experience outbreaks of pneumonia that can devastate groups of the animals. The strains most likely to infect the sheep are often carried by their domestic cousins.

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