Pneumonia Outbreak in Desert Bighorn Sheep

Ewe with mild respiratory disease.

Desert bighorn ewe previously captured in the
Old Woman Mts. showing signs of mild respiratory disease

Wildlife professionals from the National Park Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and conservation organizations have been investigating an outbreak of respiratory disease in desert bighorn sheep in the Old Dad Peak / Kelso area of the Mojave National Preserve. This was first reported in mid-May 2013. Two diseased bighorn have been collected and submitted to the state diagnostic laboratory in San Bernardino.  Preliminary results confirm pneumonia.  Currently surveys are being conducted to determine the geographic extent of the outbreak. So far, the disease appears to be limited geographically but monitoring will continue.

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A California Native Receives a Warm Welcome in Arizona

If you ever find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, stop by the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum (ASDM) and say hi to a California native … mountain lion that is. The zoo recently took in a wayward mountain lion cub that had been orphaned this past March.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by clicking here. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

This young California native is the new mascot of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) and is looking for a name. Information for the naming contest can be found by visitng the ASDM home page. Photo credit: Rhonda Spencer, ASDM.

Malnourished and emaciated, this cub found itself in a precarious situation – hiding among bushes in a residential backyard in San Jose. The homeowner contacted local authorities including wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). With the assistance of the San Jose Police Department, local animal control, and Wildlife Emergency Services (WES), CDFW successfully captured the cub and transported him to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), where the lion was sedated and examined. Although the cub was bright, alert and responsive at the time of capture, he was very dehydrated and in poor body condition (emaciated), weighing only 15 pounds. He also had a severe flea and tick infestation.  WCSV volunteers gave the cub fluids, applied flea control, and moved him to a secured area to rest overnight until the cub could be transported to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigation Laboratory (WIL) in Rancho Cordova for further evaluation and medical care by a state wildlife veterinarian.

Once at WIL, the cub received additional treatments that included fluids, antibiotics, a dewormer, and tick treatment. Further diagnostic testing was performed including a complete blood panel, feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test, and fecal exam. Although his blood work was normal and the disease testing was negative, the cub would continue to be closely monitored by WIL veterinarians and staff over the next few weeks for signs of illness. While it is common for female mountain lions to briefly leave their young while they hunt, the severity of this cub’s emaciation led wildlife professionals to suspect that this cub had been orphaned. As to why he was orphaned was uncertain – it is possible that his mother was killed, but he could have also been abandoned due to ailing health.

The Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) provides safe, temporary placement of wildlife that has been confiscated, orpahned or injured animals, or "nuissance" animals. We are not a rehab facility and it is not our goal to remove otherwise healthy individuals from the wild - unless an extreme situation requires the permanent captivity of an individual. Once in a while animals come to our veterinarians in need of serious medical care. Our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane. For this young lion, he was emaciated and starving but otherwise healthy.

Although the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) is not a rehabilitation facility, occasionally WIL has to intervene in wildlife animal welfare conflicts. Our devoted team of wildlife veterinarians, biologists and WIL administrative staff assist to provide safe, temporary placement for “wayward wildlife.” For some wildlife in need of serious medical care, our veterinarians must decide what is ethical and humane with regards to their treatment and recovery. It is illegal to rehabilitate and release mountain lions in California, and our veterinarians knew that with treatment this young lion would make a full recovery, so we contacted the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) – one of the nation’s leading outdoor-living museums.

Over the course of three weeks, WIL staff carefully reintroduced the emaciated cub to appropriate foods and, with the help of the Folsom Zoo, designed a balanced diet that would satisfy the nutritional needs for the growing cub. To keep the cub physically active, a variety of toys were introduced to encourage the cub’s curiosity and to give him lots of opportunities for play. It is during this course of time that WIL staff searched for a suitable facility that the cub could call home. It is currently illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions in California and thus it is our responsibility at WIL to find sanctuary placement for all confiscated and non-releasable mountain lions in appropriate permitted wildlife facilities. For this reason, WIL keeps in contact with zoos and nature centers all over the country that may have an interest in helping the department take animals that are in need of placement. This is how our little lion cub came to find a welcoming home at the ASDM.

Knowing ASDM’s strong commitment to wildlife conservation and their desire to help a non-releasable wild mountain lion in need of placement, it was an easy decision to call  and ask them if they were interested.  WIL knew this little mountain lion cub would have a large, beautiful natural enclosure to live in with plenty of good care.  WIL also knew that this mountain lion would capture the attention of the thousands of people who visited the ASDM and become the ambassador for the species country wide.

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Mountain lion cub (Puma concolor). Photo courtesy Deana Clifford

Once the cub was deemed healthy enough to travel and approvals for his placement were granted by both state wildlife agencies, the cub was transported by WIL staff to Blythe, California. The cub was transferred over to Arizona-Sonoran Desert staff early in the morning on April 15, 2013.

WIL would sincerely like to thank all of those involved in the safe capture and care of this mountain lion cub on March 9, 2013. We would also like to thank the Sacramento Zoo for providing frozen treats and vaccines and the Folsom Zoo for all of their assistance in creating a nutritionally balanced diet. Lastly, we would like to extend our gratitude to the ASDM for the wonderful care and welcome they have given this cub – updates and the official ASDM Press Release can be found by following the link.