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Bighorn herd rebounds from disease to reach record numbers

April 12, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Bighorns in western North Dakota have rebounded from an outbreak of bacterial pneumonia seven years ago to reach record numbers, according to the state Game and Fish Department’s survey.

The herd south of Interstate 94, however, continues to struggle and and is at its smallest size in about two decades, the survey showed.

The count shows 322 bighorns, up 11% from 2019 and 13% above the five-year average.

About 40 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and sheep recently introduced to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation aren’t included in the count, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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Biologists counted 97 rams, 170 ewes and 55 lambs.

“We were encouraged to see the count of adult rams increase after declining the last four years, and adult ewes were at record numbers,” Big Game Biologist Brett Wiedmann said.

The strong herd reflects the diminished effects of bacterial pneumonia detected in 2014, according to Wiedmann. It killed about three dozen sheep and prompted Game and Fish to cancel the bighorn hunting season in 2015 for the first time in more than three decades.

The agency reinstated hunting the following year, but it can take up to 15 years for bacterial pneumonia to work its way out of a herd, according to state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams.

Game and Fish typically allocates fewer than 10 licenses per year. Six were given out last year when nearly 17,000 hunters applied. T