If you’re visiting Zion National Park and you come across a coughing bighorn sheep, let park authorities know the baa-d news immediately.
You could, perhaps, help save sheep lives.
Specifically, if you see a bighorn sheep coughing excessively, let the park biologists know. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources worries that there might be an outbreak of pneumonia in the park, which is “a pretty common concern with bighorn sheep,” said Jace Taylor, a DWR bighorn sheep biologist.
On July 20, a park employee observed a ewe coughing a lot. The animal was so sick she was euthanized, and testing showed the animal was infected with bacterial pneumonia (Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae). The fear is that it might have spread to other sheep in Zion National Park.
Since then, more coughing sheep have been found, and testing is underway.
And there are a lot more visitors than there are biologists in the park, so the odds of a visitor seeing/hearing a coughing bighorn are quite a bit higher.
“At this point, we don't know a whole lot, except that there are a couple of sick animals,” Taylor said. “It's hard to say what will happen from here. It could turn out to be nothing at all, or it could be that, yeah, we have animals die.”
Which is where members of the public come in. A little bit of coughing is normal; if you see a bighorn sheep coughing like crazy, get the word to a park employee. To a park biologist. You should call 435-772-0217 or send an email to Zion_Park_Information@nps.gov.
“Let them know what they saw,” Taylor said, “and then the park biologist can follow up.”
Don’t try to play sheep doctor. Don’t approach the animals.
“Follow all the normal guidelines there at the park as far as not harassing or disturbing animals,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of unknowns at this point. We just want to let people know that we’re aware of the situation and that we’re continuing to monitor it.”