Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

First Advisor

Thomas R. McCabe


Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) were once indigenous to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. When European settlers moved into this region during the late 1800' s, market hunting, loss of habitat, and introduction of animal diseases and parasites caused the subspecies of the region, the Audubon's bighorn sheep (O. c. auduboni), to become extinct by 1916 (Buechner 1960). To reestablish bighorn sheep in the Black Hills, 8 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (O. c. canadensis) were introduced into the former range of the Audubon's sheep in 1922. Finding the habitat to be very suitable, this small population increased to about 150 animals. A suspected waterborn disease (leptospirosis?) decimated this population, causing it to decline to 1 animal by 1959 (W. Winter, Custer State Park, pers. comm.). A second reintroduction of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was made in Custer State Park in 1964. Again the population increased, reaching a level of 100-150 animals by 1975 (Trefethen 1975). The population in the park has failed to increase above this 1975 level, having at present an estimated population of 120 animals. Two possible factors are limiting the expansion of the herd: 1) mortality induced by a lungworm-pneumonia complex (Spraker 1981, Hibler et al. 1972, Forrester 1971), and/or 2) carrying capacity restricted by some habitat factor. Previous studies have indicated that the Custer State Park bighorn herd is infected with the lungworm Muellerius capillaris (Pybus and Shave 1984). However, very little is known of the reproductive success of the herd or of the behavior and habitat use of the sheep. To ascertain whether parasitic influence and/or habitat availability are instrumental in negating population growth, close examination of the level of lungworm infection, reproductive success, and habitat use of the bighorn sheep in the park was necessary. Only with this information can Custer State Park meet the management objective of maintaining a healthy bighorn sheep herd for both the viewing and sporting public.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Bighorn sheep --Parasites
Bighorn Sheep -- Reproduction
Bighorn Sheep -- Habitat


Includes bibliographical references (pages 46-54)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


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