Mystery illness plauges bighorn sheep in Radium

Bighorn sheep health has become an issue Parks Canada and the province of British Columbia are actively investigating.

As much as it stops traffic in the Village of Radium Hot Springs, the local bighorn sheep herd is an integral part of the community’s tourism. What would happen if the community was to lose this herd? It’s something that Parks Canada and the province of British Columbia are hoping to avoid.

As a mystery illness plagues the lambs from last year, the beloved bighorn sheep health has become an issue Parks Canada and the province of British Columbia are actively investigating.

“We had a report of a younger sheep with very very bad diarrhea and [was] quite skinny,” said Seth Cherry, wildlife ecologist for Parks Canada. “Our staff like our biologist is aware out of Cranbrook and working with national parks and a wildlife veterinarian out of Vancouver Island was also made aware and shown pictures of it.”

National Parks was interested in doing a health assessment of the herd so a sample of faecal matter was collected to be tested for any abnormal disease that could potentially jeopardize the health of the herd. A further investigation of the animals will be underway as the herd had two roadside mortalities. Parks, working with local conservation and the provincial wildlife veterinarian, sent those animals for necropsies.

“Because both those instances happened in the province we collected the carcasses on their behalf just because we have staff in the area and we will submit those for necropsy and see if that can help us get to the bottom of what’s causing the diarrhea,” said Cherry.

The results of the necropsies will go directly to the provincial wildlife veterinarian as both animals were diseased within the province of B.C..

The ongoing health issue with the bighorn sheep has been going on for a month, said Cherry, but Parks has only seen it in the young sheep and so far no mortalities have come from the mystery illness.

“We haven’t observed any direct mortalities that we think are related to it but it’s something we definitely want to keep an eye on and we’ll continue to sample opportunistically,” said Cherry.

Parks Canada is asking the public to report any sheep mortalities whether it’s roadside deaths or any other cause to either Parks staff or conservation officers depending on where the location of the carcass is found. This will allow for further sampling to be carried out in an effort to diagnose the herd’s illness.

“At this stage, I think it’s just something we haven’t seen before and something we’re interested in learning more about once we figure it out what it is we will look at next steps from there,” said Cherry.

The Village of Radium’s bighorn sheep herd are managed cooperatively between the province and Parks Canada. As the animals move inside and outside of the park boundaries frequently, both will be closely monitoring the situation.