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California bighorn sheep numbers in B.C.'s Similkameen plummeting

December 12, 2015 CBC News

Plummeting numbers of California bighorn sheep in the Similkameen have the province concerned it's now planning a moratorium on hunting the animals.

From about Princeton to Osoyoos there are only 27 sheep. Six years ago there were 75.

Chris Barker, former president of the Wild Sheep Society of B.C., applauds the decision to shut down the hunt of the majestic animal. "Every time you lose a population you're losing genetics, and in some instances, you don't know what you lose," he told Radio West host Rebecca Zandbergen. "If they build up resistance to a certain thing and we lose that then we're dealing with naive sheep herds that are susceptible to that sort of thing."

Barker says he's not 100 per cent sure why the sheep are declining, but says it could be because of psoroptic mange, also known as "sheep scab," a condition that can lead to emaciation and eventually death.

The Ministry of Environment has the California bighorn classified on the "blue list," which means they are of "special concern," but not endangered.

In 1998, a population estimate put their number at about 10,000 province wide.

Barker says a solution for the Similkameen population might be to bring in sheep from other herds to diversify the genetics of the declining herd.

Read more: B.C. government auctions off chance to kill a wild sheep, Gooch's letter

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