A rapidly spreading form of pneumonia in Washington could put herds of bighorn sheep in danger. Likely contracted from domesticated animals, cases of pneumonia in Yakima County have officials concerned, and conflicted over a difficult decision.

According to Q13 Fox, one of the local herds had already dwindled to a shadow of its former size. Named Titon, the herd caught pneumonia earlier in the year and only 50 survivors remain.

“It’s quite a dramatic episode when these sheep herds get pneumonia and we can see dramatic die-offs,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional manager Ted Clausing. “Maybe half the herd, a quarter of the herd, maybe even more.”

Wildlife officials may have to euthanize the 50 remaining members of the Titon herd so they don’t have a chance to infect nearby groups, including the 200-strong Cleman herd. If left unchecked, pneumonia may kill many hundreds of the sheep and even worse, endanger the newborn lambs that officials are expecting to be born within the next several months. Pregnant ewes may also not be healthy enough to raise young for the next season.

“In the following spring, the remaining ewes that survive will either not give birth to lambs at all or those lambs will be so weak they won’t survive,” said Clausing. The department intends to begin euthanasia programs in the next several days.

Image from Philipp Haupt on the Wikimedia Commons

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