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Some of the greatest successes in infectious disease control rest on empirically grounded models of human and livestock infections. In contrast, disease control in wildlife has not always been as successful. Timely translation of knowledge into proposed management actions remains a challenge in several wildlife disease systems, one of which is pneumonia management in bighorn sheep throughout the North American West. Although pneumonia was recognised as a major impediment to bighorn sheep conservation >80 years ago, a series of challenges stymied the management decision-making process. Despite past obstacles, recent advances from long-term, intensive studies of marked individual sheep have motivated new interest in research-driven strategies for disease management in this system. The system provides an unusual opportunity to study an emerging pathogen disproportionately impacting immature animals through infections that originate from asymptomatically infected adult hosts. We tell the story of bighorn sheep pneumonia, emphasising the obstacles that historically hindered decision-making, the biological or logistical constraints underlying each decision point, and the particular empirical insights that clarified each constraint.
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