ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK, Utah — Bighorn sheep are back on Antelope Island for the first time in a year after a deadly disease wiped out the entire population.
On Wednesday afternoon, 25 sheep were reintroduced at the Frary Peak Trailhead in front of more than 100 people.
“It’s a big deal,” Antelope Island State Park Manager Jeremy Shaw said.
The new herd was trucked in from Montana.
“For us, they’re kind of an icon,” Shaw said.
The original island herd fell sick from a pneumonia-like virus in the fall of 2018. Nearly all 150 died.
The remaining few had to be euthanized to prevent further spread.
“When we had the respiratory disease event last year, a lot of work went into making sure none of those animals remained on the island because they would pose a potential threat to the future heard,” Big Horn Sheep biologist Jay Taylor said.
Investigators don’t know how the original herd came down with the disease. One guess is the Great Salt Lake dipped low enough for sheep to cross a land bridge and mingle with domestic sheep.
“The animals that we brought today, we did a lot of testing with them. It kept a lot of things in the air for the release because we had to make sure we had the results before we turned them loose,” Taylor said.
The park installed an eleven-mile fence on the southern end of the island to keep the sheep on the island and isolated from the disease.
About 30 more sheep will be brought to the island to join the new herd. Within a few years, it should be big enough to share offspring with other parts of the state.
“We realize that having a healthy nursery herd on the island means having a healthy bighorn population in Utah. We take that seriously so it’s a big deal for us today,” Shaw said.