Why bighorn sheep and domestic sheep or goats should not mix

Apr 16, 2024

“Domestic sheep and goats can commonly carry a bacterium called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi) that can cause pneumonia and large-scale population die-offs of bighorn sheep following close contact with an infected animal,” explains Anne Hubbs, senior wildlife biologist with the Alberta government.

Signs of the disease in bighorns include coughing, nasal discharge, weight loss and in many cases, death. Unlike their wild counterparts, many domestic animals carrying M. ovi show no visible signs of the disease.

“There are no vaccines or treatments for wild sheep (or mountain goats who are also susceptible to the disease), so maintaining physical separation from domestic sheep and goats is very important.”

Domestic sheep and goat use on crown lands near bighorn sheep ranges is already prohibited (e.g., for industry) or strongly discouraged. Alberta Environment and Protected Areas (AEPA) has identified a Disease Surveillance Zone that extends 50 km east from these ranges, wherein concentrated efforts to understand M. ovi in both wild and domestic sheep/goat species are underway.

AEPA, in collaboration with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, has also initiated a voluntary testing and fencing (mitigation) program for domestic sheep and goat producers in these areas. Funding is available from the government through a Minister’s Special License grant to cover producers’ costs related to these activities.

Albertans are asked to help protect our bighorn sheep by:

  • not taking M. ovi positive domestic sheep or goats on public lands in the Disease Surveillance Zone
  • testing domestic sheep and goats for M. ovi (government funding is available). Please note:  M. ovi is not a reportable or notifiable disease in Alberta and is not a public health concern. Testing is managed through the producer’s veterinarian of choice.
  • using ‘no-contact’ fencing or other proactive measures to prevent close contact with bighorn sheep (government funding is available)
  • testing hunter-harvested bighorn sheep for M. ovi (refer to the Alberta Hunting Guide for further information)
  • reporting sightings of bighorn sheep near your domestic sheep or goats, or sick bighorn sheep, by calling your local Alberta Environment and Protected Areas biologist (call 310-0000)
  • helping increase awareness of M. ovi (tell a friend or colleague of the risk)

Questions about the testing and fencing program for domestic sheep and goat producers? Please contact your local veterinarian.

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