Mystery epidemic wipes out Antelope Island’s bighorn sheep; it may take years to rebuild herd to what it was

(Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) A Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep forages outside the town of Sunnyside near Utah's Book Cliffs in 2012. Antelope Island's herd has provided many sheep to repopulate West Desert mountain ranges over the years, but a recent epidemic has wiped out that herd. The survivors are to be killed by aerial hunters this month and replaced with disease-free animals.

For the past two decades, Antelope Island’s bighorn sheep supplied animals that re-established herds in mountain ranges all over Utah’s West Desert. Central to that success was the herd’s isolation, insulating it from the deadly pathogens carried by their domestic cousins. The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

But rams started dropping dead last November. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists know this because they rigged 10 with telemetry collars last year. They have since learned that a respiratory disease killed them along with most of other 150 sheep there.

The 26 survivors, identified during a flyover Wednesday, must be killed so another “nursery” herd of Rocky Mountain bighorns can be re-established on the Great Salt Lake’s largest island, according to DWR biologist Jace Taylor.

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