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WSU biologists identify bacteria that may be killing West's bighorn sheep

Idaho, USA

July 06, 2007

By Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Biologists at Washington State University say they have isolated a bacteria that may have contributed to the deaths of thousands of bighorn sheep in the West over the past five decades.The biologists say they found mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in tissue taken from dying lambs captured in Hells Canyon - a chasm that borders Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They believe it inhibits the ability of hairlike structures in the sheeps' airways to eliminate bacteria that lead to pneumonia - a leading cause of death in bighorns."This is the first problem I've worked on where there is quite a bit of evidence piling up where the agent is a mycoplasma," said Tom Besser, a professor in WSU's department of veterinary microbiology and pathology.In herds known to be infected with mycoplasma, more than half the sheep die each year from pneumonia. Lambs are the most susceptible, mainly because their immune systems are not fully developed, said Frances Cassirer, a wildlife research biologist with Idaho Fish and Game.Pneumonia is the leading killer of bighorns infected with mycoplasma, she said. In herds not infected, the leading cause of death is predators, she said.

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