LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- The bighorn sheep is the official state animal of Nevada. There are more than 11,000 Big Horn Sheep making their homes here.
But, as News 3’s Venise Toussaint tells us, a deadly disease could put them in jeopardy.
“The nobility of these animals is just incredible,” said State Wildlife Veterinarian Peregrine Wolff.
Wolff spends much of her time monitoring bighorn sheep
One of Nevada’s most notable and unique animals, she’s now trying to figure out what is causing an illness that could wipe out an entire herd.
“We’ve seen some signs of head shaking and coughing and runny nose,” Wolf said.
All signs pointing to pneumonia leaving some sheep dead and wildlife experts fearing its effects on hundreds of others living in the mountains between Henderson and Lake Mead
“What is difficult about this heard is that one it’s a been a big source population for many of our other sheep that have been started and distributed around Nevada but also in the west so it’s a very, very important herd to us,” Wolff said.
The bighorn sheep is Nevada’s state animal playing a key role in the economy and the community.
“In places like boulder city where there is a neighboring population of bighorn sheep that actually visit down from time to time, they play an important role from a cultural and economic standpoint because they're very important to the tourism industry,” said Doug Nielsen of the Nevada Wildlife Department.
The state has spent decades cultivating it’s transplant program which helped increase the bighorn population from 3,000 in the late 1960’s to more than 11,000 today-- the highly contagious disease now threating the program and the lives of hundreds of sheep
“These pneumonia outbreaks can be anywhere from a few animals dying to all animals dying or a large percentage of them, and then this continued loss of lambs year after year after year that could be very devastating to our entire program of big horn sheep,” Wolff said.
Dr. Wolf and a team of wildlife experts are still working to determine a cause of the sudden illness and a way to prevent any more deaths.
The wildlife department suspects the sheep contracted the disease from domestic animals that may have gotten loose.
They say they’ll have to euthanize some of the sick sheep in order to conduct more thorough testing of their illness.