Bighorn Sheep

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Bighorn sheep can frequently be seen on or near the Refuge Road during the winter months. 


Historically, bighorn sheep on the Refuge were primarily winter residents that migrated from the Gros Ventre Range. From November to May, they occurred on the eastern slopes of Miller Butte and in eastern parts of the Refuge near Curtis Canyon. In recent years, small numbers of sheep have been observed on Miller Butte year-round, although peak numbers occur in winter, with most still migrating to the Gros Ventre Range.

The Jackson herd has experienced two know significant die-offs over the years. In 2002, it was estimated that as many as 50% were lost due to a pneumonia outbreak, and another estimated 30% lost again in 2011. Near Dubois, Wyoming, the Whiskey Basin herd in the Wind River Range has struggled through several pneumonia outbreaks as well. 

While there are several pathogens that may cause pneumonia in bighorn sheep, many of these are suppressed unless the animal becomes weakened by other pathogens or environmental stresses. Once the animal's immune system is undermined, these pathogens are able to establish themselves and cause disease. Many questions remain regarding how different combinations of pathogens, environmental stressors, population density, or nutritional condition may contribute to triggering a pneumonia outbreak. An interagency working group facilitates cooperation among the wildlife and land management agencies in managing the bighorn sheep population and its habitat.

Bighorn sheep are frequently seen on or near the Refuge Road. While the Refuge Road offers spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities, the increased use on the road can have a considerable negative impact on the bighorn sheep population and is a concern to wildlife managers. Visitors to the Refuge Road can play an important role in the protection of the species. Some important considerations about viewing bighorn sheep on the Refuge Road can be viewed here. 

Photos of bighorn sheep can be found on the National Elk Refuge's photo gallery.