Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are working to determine what caused at least eight bighorn sheep to die east of Gunnison during the last week of December.
A rancher called the DOW's Gunnison office on Dec. 23 and reported that three bighorns were dead near one of his fields. A small herd of wild sheep winters on a hillside just above the pasture and often move down to feed on hay left for cattle. DOW wildlife officers examined the carcasses and collected tissue samples. Another bighorn in the pasture that appeared to be very sick was euthanized.
Wildlife officers found four more dead sheep during the next three days.
Initial findings suggested that pneumonia was the likely cause of at least some of the deaths. Other carcasses were found frozen and were transported to the DOW's Wildlife Health Laboratory in Fort Collins for complete necropsies and testing. Upon examination in the laboratory all eight dead bighorns showed some evidence of pneumonia. Results from additional lab work will probably be available by mid-January.