Over the weekend, four members of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s Animal Health team assisted the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to conduct health assessments on 51 bighorn sheep in western Nebraska. The efforts aim to track and aid struggling bighorn sheep populations.
Native Nebraska bighorn sheep were extripated from the state in the early 1900s due to causes such as disease and habitat loss. In 1981, a reintroduction program began at Fort Robinson State Park. The program resulted in approximately 300 sheep that reside in areas of Pine Ridge, between Harrison and Chadron, and the Wildcat Hills, south of Gering and east to McGrew.
Today, populations in Pine Ridge are struggling as this is the second year of the lamb collaring project where no lambs survived in that area. Researchers are working to determine the exact cause of pneumonia, the main cause of death in newborn lambs in Pine Ridge, and techniques to treat the young animals before they succumb to illness.
The Animal Health team from Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium gave ultrasounds to the ewes, most of which showed to be pregnant. Pregnant ewes were then given a vaginal implant transmitter (VIT), a device placed in the birthing canal that will become expelled when a lamb is born. Commission staff will closely monitor the VITs during the lambing period this spring and early summer in hopes of collaring and administering antibiotics to the newborns lambs.
The 51 sheep also received GPS tracking collars which will allow for remote monitoring via satellite.
Other groups and organizations that were involved in the project include Lincoln Children’s Zoo, South Dakota State University, Nebraska Big Game Society, Chadron State College, Crawford Companion Animal Clinic, Alliance Animal Clinic, USDA, Iowa Chapter of the Foundation of North American Wild Sheep and the Wild Sheep Foundation.