Twentynine Palms, California -  Park officials have confirmed an outbreak of pneumonia in the bighorn sheep population.

The first report of a sick and coughing bighorn was reported in early May of this year. In mid-August, a dead lamb was found in the park and sent to a laboratory for necropsy. The results of laboratory analysis of blood and tissue samples confirmed that the animal was infected with pneumonia. The mortality rate for animals infected is 50-90% and there is no vaccine or cure. This form of disease typically enters into a population from contact with domestic sheep or goats. Biologists caution the public to avoid releasing domestic sheep or goats into the wild since they can carry the disease and show no symptoms. An outbreak such as this can cause a long term decline in the population that can last more than a decade.

Biologists have a formed an interagency task-force to monitor outbreaks, suggest best practices for limiting the range and effects of the disease and provide recommendations for management actions. For more information on this subject, see the article Respiratory Disease Outbreak Among Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park.