Montana Authorities Kill Wandering Bighorn to Protect Wild Sheep

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A bighorn ram that had wandered into the immediate vicinity of domestic sheep near Big Timber was removed by law enforcement authorities Wednesday.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional wildlife manager Ray Mule’ said the wild bighorn sheep was seen earlier in the week about 15 miles west of Big Timber. Wednesday morning a Sweet Grass County sheriff’s deputy saw the ram at the city cemetery, south of Interstate 90. The wild animal was within 200 yards of domestic sheep.

A sheriff’s deputy, under the direction of FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh, killed the bighorn ram. The carcass will be taken to FWP’s veterinary lab in Bozeman.

The fact that this is the breeding season for bighorn sheep increases the probability that it will come in contact with domestic sheep, Mule’ said. Biologists are concerned that bighorn sheep will contract diseases from domestic animals and carry them back to the wild herds, he said.  During the breeding season young rams may wander into new areas far from their normal range in search of females.

Bighorns are susceptible to contracting an often-fatal form of pneumonia caused by bacteria that may be present in domestic sheep, which are unaffected. In recent weeks, wild bighorns in the Cinnabar Basin north of Yellowstone National Park died of pneumonia. In past years, entire herds of bighorn sheep in western Montana were devastated by pneumonia after wandering animals came in contact with domestic sheep and carried disease back to the wilds.

Bighorn sheep inhabit the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains in the upper Boulder River and Stillwater River drainages. The nearest herd of bighorns is approximately 30 miles from Big Timber. The ram killed Wednesday was about five years old and carried horns with a half to three-quarters curl.