Study of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in Alaska's Domestic Sheep and Goats
Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi)
In the western U.S., bighorn sheep populations have experienced severe and drastic populations losses (up to 75-95%) due to outbreaks of pneumonia, in some cases following interaction with domestic sheep and goats. Currently, these outbreaks are being attributed to the bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi), which is known to cause respiratory disease in wild sheep and goats, as well as livestock.
Due to the structure of farms in Alaska, the risk of disease transmission from domestic livestock to wildlife is lower than in other areas of the country. However, Movi has now been detected in healthy Dall's sheep as well as mountain goats in Alaska with no evidence of illness or deaths. More research and monitoring is needed to determine if the Movi strains found in Alaska wild sheep and goats are similar to those in the Lower 48 that have been associated with high mortality events. More information and analyses are needed to characterize the Movi strains and determine how widespread Movi and other Mycoplasmas might be in Alaska.
Study of Movi in Alaska's Domestic Sheep and Goats
Due to the potentially severe consequences of Movi infection for Alaska's wildlife, it is imperative that more information is collected in order to gain a better understanding of the issue, and if it is, or could become a problem in Alaska.
The OSV is undertaking a pilot study in collaboration with the Sheep and Goat Working Group, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Agriculture, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Veterinary School, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the prevalence and distribution of Movi in domestic sheep and goats, wildlife, and captive ungulates in the state.
In order to obtain a large and representative set of data, the OSV is seeking help from local farmers and veterinarians. Anyone who owns sheep and goats in encouraged to participate. The testing is confidential, and there will be no charge for running the diagnostic tests. The Alaska Farm Bureau has agreed to help cover the costs for veterinarians collecting samples.
Each participating farmer will answer general questions about management practices on the farm. A trained veterinarian or technician will then collect samples (blood, conjunctival swab, nasal swab) from each member of the herd or flock. The samples will be identified by a code known only to the sample collector and owner of the animal. The samples will be shipped free of charge to the USDA Agricultural Research Laboratory and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for analysis. The farm code-protected results will be sent to the OSV and shared with the Sheep and Goat Working Group, but these organizations will not be informed of the identity or location of the participants.
In 2016 (Proposition 90) and 2017 (Proposition 64), the Wild Sheep Foundation proposed amending a regulation that would remove domestic sheep and goats from the 'clean list' and add fencing and permit requirements for sheep and goat owners within 15 air miles of Dall sheep habitat. Also known as "Prop 64," the proposal was tabled at the 2017 Board of Game meeting after significant outcry by the public and others citing a lack of authority to regulate domestic animals (under authority of DEC) and the lack of any information that would demonstrate that wild sheep populations are at risk of contracting pathogens from domestic species. While the proposal is expected to be revisited this fall, the Sheep and Goat Working Group, organized by the Alaska Farm Bureau and composed of the OSV, representatives from the agricultural community, sheep and goat owners, other state agencies (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Agriculture), and the Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, have been meeting to develop a plan to address the underlying concern that domestic sheep and goats could transmit pathogens to wild populations.