The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced that several wild sheep and goats tested positive for a pathogen that has caused respiratory disease in Lower 48 herds.
The implications of the pathogen, called M. ovi for short, aren’t quite clear yet, but Alaska’s sheep have stayed relatively clear of respiratory disease, officials said.
The department said last week that the presence of the pathogen “in an animal does not mean it is or will become sick.” More than 100 species of M. ovi exist with varying ability to cause disease, according to the department.
In the most recent nine positive tests, none of the animals were carrying the strain commonly found in the Lower 48, and the animals did not seem to display symptoms of respiratory distress, the Peninsula Clarion reported. Other tests are still being analyzed.
“The ability of M. ovi to cause pneumonia is impacted by multiple stressors including poor nutritional condition and/or environmental factors such as extreme weather,” the department said. It noted both domestic and wild sheep and goats can carry the bacteria while showing no signs of illness.
Infected animals came from a variety of locations in the state, including the Talkeetna Mountains, the Brooks Range and the Kenai Peninsula.
The announcement reopens a hot debate between sport hunters and farmers that tentatively ended earlier this year. The department said it plans to intensify surveillance for the pathogen with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Disease Research Unit and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.
The state had been surveying sheep and goats to try to detect the bacteria for the last 10 years without previously confirming its presence in wild populations. In recent years, the state boosted the number of animals for testing and began testing animals taken by hunters, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .