Crews will capture, test and attach radio transmitters to Bighorn sheep in the nearby Mojave National Preserve this weekend. Experts will launch a $48,000 helicopter survey and GPS tracking effort this weekend to gauge the scope of a pneumonia epidemic that has killed more than 100 bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert.
The outbreak has decimated two herds, one around Old Dad Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve and a second in the Marble Mountains, 35 miles south. Officials have said the highly contagious infection may have come from sick domestic sheep illegally dumped off a truck en route to alfalfa fields in the Imperial Valley. The crew of a federally contracted helicopter will search for the scattered animals over as much as 80,430 acres, in areas where dead and sick bighorns have been found and in nearby mountain ranges. Individual animals will be captured with a net fired out of the low-flying helicopter. The bighorn is then removed from the net, blindfolded to reduce stress and hobbled with a leather restraint to prevent kicking, she said. The workers take blood samples and a nasal swab, attach the collar and release the animal. The disease has killed about half of the 200 to 300 sheep in the herd there and at nearby Kelso Peak.