Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (AKDFG) confirmed that the respiratory bacteria, which has caused massive die-offs across the West, has spread to Alaska. Four Dall sheep and two mountain goats in Game Management Unit 13A tested positive for Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (Movi), an AKDFG press release reports.
"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 Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale in a press release, adding that Alaska's Dall sheep and mountain goat populations are, overall, healthy.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, AKDFG tested 136 Dall sheep harvested by hunters; four tested positive – all “appeared healthy.” The two mountain goats that tested positive for Movi were part of a live-capture sample comprised of 39 mountain goats; none showed “signs of illness” prior to testing positive for the bacteria.
As goHUNT previously reported, the push to limit domestic sheep and goats in Alaska has been met with opposition and heavily debated by wildlife biologists, pack animal owners, farmers, hunters, and residents. Last November, the Alaska Board of Game decided to not require owners of domestic sheep and goats to obtain permits for their animals. Instead, the Board opted to take no action on a proposal that would remove domestic sheep and goats from the state’s “clean list” and require “individual permits for each animal, complete disease testing” and require strong fencing around pens located “within 15 miles of established [wild] sheep habitat,” according to the Peninsula Clarion. Further, the Board only advised domestic sheep and goats owners to continue with voluntary disease testing.
The Alaska Farm Bureau president is urging producers not to overreact as the state continues to gather additional research on the pathogen’s reach. In fact, there have been no confirmed pneumonia outbreaks or die-offs related to Movi, according to AKDFG spokesman Ken Marsh.
“This is an issue that requires serious attention, but we don’t want people to freak out about it. We have time to gather information and plan instead of rushing into something out of fear. The sheep and goats that have tested positive for Movi so far have all been healthy,” Bryce Wrigley, president of the Alaska Farm Bureau (AFB), said in a press release.
Interior Alaska is home to the largest wild sheep population in the state. Massive die-offs in the Lower 48 have impacted 75% of the wild sheep herds. AFB, AKDFG, the Office of the State Veterinarian, Division of Agriculture and wildlife advocates are working with the USDA Animal Research Unit and Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on a pilot study, which began last July, to figure out how widespread Movi is within domestic sheep, goats and other Alaskan wildlife. Prior research conducted by the North American Packgoat Association found only 4% of the animals tested positive for the fatal bacteria, according to goHUNT’s previous article. The pilot study will continue throughout 2018 as experts map Movi’s path.
“We have just four positive samples in wild sheep and two in goats. We know it’s present, we don’t know how long it’s been there, we don't know how widespread it is,” state veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach told the Anchorage Daily News. “People are saying this is a crisis and a disaster. Let’s do what we’re supposed to do … look at the facts.”