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Researchers Explore Threat Of Pneumonia Among Bighorn Sheep In Grand Canyon

desert bighorn sheep
National Park Service
handout | agency
Desert bighorn sheep.

Researchers are looking into the threat of pneumonia spreading among desert bighorn sheep in the Grand Canyon.

Seventy-five percent of the sheep tested so far have come back positive for pathogens. That does not mean they have full-fledged pneumonia or will develop it, though.

Still, pneumonia has led to die-offs of bighorn sheep in other parts of the southwest, such as the Mojave Desert. For that reason, wildlife biologist Brandon Holton with Grand Canyon National Park said it is critical to get a better sense of how many animals in the park actually have the disease.

At this point, only three sheep have come back positive for pneumonia, Holton said.

"However, Grand Canyon is a tremendously vast and very logistically difficult place to get around, and without a doubt the majority of sheep that actually die of pneumonia, or other causes, go undiscovered," said Holton.

Holton said they’ve been conducting this study since 2011.

The Grand Canyon Association now hopes to raises more than $100,000 to continue and expand the study.


Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.