Wildlife officials from Zion National Park and the Division of Wildlife Resources have proposed a plan to help insure the health of the bighorn sheep population within the park.
The bighorn sheep were reintroduced into the park in 1973 after their mid-century disappearance. Initially, the herd population grew slowly, however a recent count shows the population to be over 500 sheep. This growth is of concern to scientists, like Zion National Park Division Chief Fred Armstrong, who fears contact with domesticated animals will lead to disease in the bighorn population.
“It has been shown that time and time again, when these native wild sheep come into contact with domesticated animals they inevitably contract one of the respiratory ailments that leads to phenomena and basically leads to devastating die-offs.”
As the bighorn population grows, the animals expand into habitat already occupied by domestic sheep and goats.
Armstrong says the initial extinction of the sheep in the park may have been caused by a similar occurrence of disease instead of hunting, which was traditionally thought to be the culprit.
He says the effects of the illnesses can be felt in the population for years
"If pneumonia gets into the population, it can affect the survivability of the population for several years to come. even if some of the adult sheep can withstand the results of the pneumonia, it almost invariably leads to die-off of the young every year," Armstrong said.
The proposal calls for sheep to be moved to areas of the park with lower population densities. Comments on the plan will be gathered through mid-March.
To learn more and submit your comment, visit their website. You can also mail-in your comment:
Superintendent, Attention: Bighorn Management EA,
Zion National Park
Springdale, UT 84767.