Idaho Bighorn Euthanized After Contacting Domestic Goats

By Tom Keegan, Idaho Department of Fish and Game

A one-year-old bighorn sheep ram that mingled with domestic goats was euthanized Monday, June 25, to prevent the sheep from potentially carrying disease back to the wild herd.

Tom Keegan, Salmon regional wildlife manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, euthanized the year-old ram Monday after capturing the animal Friday evening. The bighorn sheep was removed from a pasture containing several hundred domestic goats south of Salmon airport.

Because bighorn sheep are susceptible to diseases that can be carried by domestic sheep and goats, Idaho Fish and Game policy is to remove bighorns when they come in contact with domestic herds. Attempts to find a research or zoo facility that would accept the young ram were unsuccessful.

A landowner contacted regional wildlife staff Friday evening to report that a young bighorn ram was in a pasture with several hundred domestic goats. Biologists responded and drugged the animal using a dart gun.

Domestic sheep and goats often carry a number of bacteria and viruses that wild sheep may be susceptible to and that can result in fatal pneumonia. The greatest risk occurs when a wild sheep mixes with domestic sheep or goats and then returns to a wild herd, potentially spreading the bacteria or viruses to other wild sheep. In some cases, this can result in large-scale die-offs in wild sheep.

“In a few cases, entire wild sheep herds have died,” Keegan said. “More often we see 50 to 70 percent losses, followed by several years of low lamb survival.”

Mark Drew, a wildlife veterinarian with Fish and Game, contacted a research facility and several municipal zoos in Idaho and neighboring states to find a home for the young ram, but none of the facilities had room for the animal at this time.

“It’s heartbreaking to have to euthanize a bighorn sheep,” Keegan said. “But the risk to wild populations is huge, so it’s definitely the lesser of two evils.”

Keegan thanked the landowner for the timely report.

For biologists to respond quickly and protect wild sheep, it is important for people to report interactions immediately between wild bighorns and domestic sheep or goats. Anyone who sees bighorn sheep mixing with domestic sheep or goats may contact the nearest Fish and Game office, or the local Fish and Game conservation officer.

Tom Keegan is the regional wildlife manager in Salmon.