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Disease may be killing California desert bighorn sheep

FILE - In this May 25, 2000 file photo, Desert Bighorn Sheep eat and rest in the Condor Ridge exhibit at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. A new survey has found a sharp decline in desert bighorn sheep in Southern California, and biologists suspect the cause is a disease contracted from domestic animals. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says a survey in early March 2019 counted 60 bighorns in the Mount San Gorgonio region east of Los Angeles. That's down two-thirds from a survey conducted in 2016. (AP Photo/Bob Grieser, File)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A new survey has found a sharp decline in desert bighorn sheep in Southern California, and biologists suspect the cause is a disease contracted from domestic animals.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says a survey earlier this month counted 60 bighorns in the Mount San Gorgonio region east of Los Angeles. That’s down two-thirds from a survey conducted in 2016.

Biologist Jeff Villepique says in the past, such die-offs have been triggered by an outbreak of a respiratory disease spread by contact with domestic sheep or goats.

The disease killed at least 21 bighorns whose carcasses were found in the area in December.

Southern California has about 4,800 desert bighorn sheep in 64 herds. Authorities say so far, sheep in nearby herds haven’t been affected.

The Associated Press