Custer State Park introduces Badlands Big Horn Sheep to their herd to increase devastated population

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Custer State Park, SD Custer State Park is known for it's dynamic wildlife and for the first time ever, biologists are working to increase the population of one particular herd.

Chad Lehman, Custer State Park Senior Wildlife Biologists says, "It's killing the sheep at a high rate so that the problem we went from roughly 200 sheep in 2003 down to about 40 or 50 in a matter of 2 years."

A deadly disease decimated the Custer State Park Big Horn Sheep population 15 years ago.

Lehman says, "Pneumonia can come in many forms but it is primarily caused by Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae which is the precursor to a lot of the other pathogens which kill Big Horn Sheep."

But after years of testing and decreasing the number of carriers .... the sheep population has stabilized and today biologist are working to accelerate the growth.

"And now we're supplementing that herd with ewes that can put lambs on the ground and allow the sheep to grow at a faster rate and get our population back up to where it needs to be" says Lahman.

12 ewes were collected from Badlands National Park and transported to Custer State Park .

Mark Peterson, Resource Biologist says, "We'll shoot a net over the sheep and they get bunched up in that net and caught in that."

The hope is to increase the heard.

Lehman says, "Our population of sheep objective for Custer State Park is 150 sheep so this will help us meet this goal and what's neat about that is, we're going to grow at a faster rate. We're going to provide more sheep for the public to view and potentially more hunting opportunities down the road."

But introducing the sheep also help the ecosystem of the area.

Lehman says, "They're an important species for predators like mountain lions and coyotes they provide pray for them but they are also a Ungulate that obviously is a grazer in this population in this ecosystem so they're foraging on grasses and shrubs and what not as well so they're doing their job in the ecosystem. "

And the next step ...

"Monitoring telemetry on these sheep daily now from the next two weeks to a month to make sure that the Badlands Sheep do in fact stay here" says Lehman.