Wildwood Zoo Announces Death of Big Horn Sheep
Submitted to FOCUS – It is with great regret, the City of Marshfield Parks & Recreation Department announces the death of the female Big Horn sheep at Wildwood Zoo. The ewe was the only remaining animal in the Zoo’s sheep exhibit. Though official necropsy results are not available, it is suspected that the ewe likely succumbed to cardiogenic pulmonary edema. This condition usually occurs when a diseased or overworked heart cannot pump enough blood from the left ventricle to keep up with blood arriving from the lungs. This can lead to a backup of fluid within the lungs. This condition is exceptionally deadly for Big Horn sheep, a species that is naturally very prone to respiratory illness.
The death of Wildwood’s ewe comes at a time when staff was already evaluating the sustainability of a Big Horn sheep herd at the Zoo. Following the loss of the Zoo’s other sheep in 2016, staff questioned whether Big Horn sheep were an appropriate species to display at Wildwood Zoo. Environmental conditions such as weather, substrate type, existing natural flora and fauna and more can all play a role in how a specific species fares in a zoo environment. Additionally, natural history of the animal species itself, as well as individual “personalities” of each exhibit animal can also play significant factors in overall animal health within zoos. Unfortunately, even with the wealth of knowledge available to zoo professionals, it is still difficult to foresee every possible issue that can arise during the exhibition of wild animals.
Through exhibition of wild animals, the Zoo hopes to inspire awareness for and action supporting animals in need like the Big Horn sheep. Though staff understood that keeping wild sheep in captivity could be difficult, we hoped the positives would outweigh the risks. Given the losses of Big Horn sheep Wildwood incurred over the last 18 months, it is unlikely the Zoo will display this species again in the future.
Wild Big Horn sheep populations face many challenges. They are prone to infection, and have little natural immunity or ability to fight disease. Additionally, loss of suitable habitat and resources to domestic animal herds, as well as fragmentation of habitats is taking its toll on wild populations.
Through careful management and reintroductions, some populations of Big Horn sheep are on the rise, while others like the Desert Big Horn sheep continue to struggle. Big Horn sheep populations might possibly require continuous intervention in order to maintain wild populations. In 1990, there were estimated to be greater than 42,700 Big Horn sheep in over 340 recognized herds, in 14 of the western states in the United States (IUCN Red List: Ovis Canadensis). Current Big Horn population size is about 5% of their historic size. (Defenders.org bighorn-sheep).
As always, the staff and volunteers at Wildwood Zoo thank you for your past and future support and patronage of the Zoo.