Alaska seeks to combat pneumonia in wild sheep and goats

By Charlie Booher

Mountain goats in Alaska are susceptible to a recently discovered strain of pneumonia-causing bacteria. ©Shaundd

Early last month, a strain of bacteria known to cause pneumonia in wild sheep and mountain goats in the continental United States was found in Alaska. This pathogen has the potential to impact Dall sheep (Ovis dalli), also known as thinhorn sheep, and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) in the state.

Alaska has not yet experienced large die-offs in sheep or mountain goat populations, but wildlife managers are worried about the capacity of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacteria, or Movi, to harm the population. Alaska is home to 40,000 to 50,000 Dall sheep – more than 25 percent of all wild sheep in North America.

“Our initial research has confirmed Movi in a small number of Dall’s sheep and mountain goats in relatively isolated areas of the state,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale, although these populations overall remain healthy.

In response to this discovery, Alaska state legislators voted to adopt a resolution to support “enhanced efforts to protect the state’s wildlife from infectious diseases, foreign pathogens, and non-endemic parasites.”

Organizations that are members of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, including The Wildlife Society, sent a letter in support of CR 23 to the Alaska State Legislature last week. The Wildlife Society released a Joint Issue Statement with the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians in 2015 to encourage proactive policies to prevent the spread of disease among wild sheep.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will work in conjunction with the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services National Wildlife Disease program and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory to track and mitigate the spread of this disease.

Read The Wildlife Society’s Standing Position Statement on Wildlife Disease.

Charlie Booher is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Charlie's articles.