More Sheep, Goats Are Carrying Bacteria (Update)

NPS Photo/Nathan Kostegian

The cases of bacteria being found in Alaska wild sheep and goats are growing.

From the Fairbanks News-Miner: 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday afternoon that an additional nine Dall sheep and three mountain goats have tested positive for Mycoplasma ovipneumonia and that these animals were found over a wide range of the state, including the Alaska, Brooks and Wrangell mountain ranges. The infected sheep were found in game management units 12, 13A, 20A, 26B and 26C. The infected goats were found in the Kenai Peninsula.

Unit 20A generally encompasses an area from Fairbanks to just north of Cantwell and east of the Parks Highway to the Richardson Highway.

None of the infected animals have shown signs of disease, and the new release stresses that the virility of Mycoplasma ovipneumonia varies between strains of the bacteria.

Tuesday’s announcement also stated that additional animals are still being tested, indicating more announcements may follow.

“We’re sharing these findings with Alaskans as we receive them,” Director Bruce Dale of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation said in a written statement. “We obviously have more to learn about M. ovi in Alaska.”

Mycoplasma ovipneumonia, often known as M. ovi, is a bacteria that can impair a sheep or goat’s ability to to clear its lungs of other bacteria, making it more vulnerable to disease. Before last week, the bacteria hadn’t been reported in wild sheep or goat populations.

Update: Here’s a release from the ADFG:

(Fairbanks) — New laboratory results received by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game late last Friday have reported detection of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (“Movi“) in nine more Dall’s sheep and three more mountain goats — that’s in addition to the initial discovery of the bacteria in four Dall’s sheep and two mountain goats announced March 13. The findings confirm the detection of Movi in Dall’s sheep in Game Management Units 12, 13A, 20A, 25C, 26B, and 26C, and in mountain goats in 15B.

“We’re sharing these findings with Alaskans as we receive them,” said Bruce Dale, Division of Wildlife Conservation director. Numerous samples are currently queued to be analyzed.

Based on preliminary analysis, three strains of Movi have been identified in Dall’s sheep. All animals sampled appeared disease-free and the department has no evidence that Movi has caused sickness or death in Alaska’s wild sheep or goat populations.

Sometimes found in domestic and wild sheep and goats in the Lower 48, Movi is considered a pathogen because it impairs hosts’ respiratory cilia from clearing bacteria that enter the lungs normally at each breath. Movi has been associated with pneumonia outbreaks in Lower 48 bighorn sheep, often resulting in significant die-offs.

The presence of Movi in an animal does not mean it is or will become sick. More than 100 known Mycoplasma species exist, including Movi, and evidence suggests that virulence — the ability to infect and cause disease — varies between Movi strains. The ability of Movi to cause pneumonia is impacted by multiple stressors including poor nutritional condition and/or environmental factors such as extreme weather. Both domestic and wild sheep and goats can carry the bacteria while showing no signs of illness.

The department has collected surveillance samples from Dall’s sheep and mountain goats throughout most of mainland Alaska for years. In response to the recent findings, the department plans to intensify Movi surveillance efforts in Dall’s sheep, mountain goats, and other Alaska wildlife in collaboration with the USDA Animal Disease Research Unit and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Pullman, Washington. Department staff will also monitor the affected wildlife populations.

“We obviously have more to learn about Movi in Alaska,” said Dale. “The recent laboratory results provide a starting point for seeking more information about this pathogen.”

For more information about Movi findings in Alaska, see the frequently asked questions at