NE Game and Parks Commission looks to protect bighorn sheep

NORTH PLATTE, NE The bighorn sheep population in the western part of the United States is dwindling to catastrophic numbers, including in western Nebraska.

"The babies that were born have all died the last three years," said Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Commissioner Rick Brandt. "Down around the Wildcat Hills, we are probably looking at 50 percent survival rate now."

The commission has been researching bighorn sheep in the Pine Ridge and Wildcat Hills and says they are dying from pasteurella pneumonia.

"Mycoplasma bacteria has multiple strains and we have identified three different ones within that sheep herd, so it appears to be part of the link to the problem with the issue,"Todd Nordeen said. "Now there are other pathogens and pasteurella species that we are looking into as well."

Nordeen is the big game and research program manager. He and his team are researching a vaccine to help preserve the population.

"We are in the process of developing a vaccine where they will develop resistance to it, that the sheep will probably get on their own sometime soon,' said Nordeen. "But, for now it is one step at a time."

They are hoping to have a vaccine available within the next year.

"Humans basically years ago; when domestic sheep were brought in, that's when the pasteurella pneumonia was brought in," Brandt added. "So it's our responsibility to fix our screw up."