Fish and Game expands respiratory pathogen surveillance program

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is expanding its respiratory pathogen surveillance program with a focus on detecting Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae — or M. ovi for short.
This bacterium can cause respiratory diseases in big game animals such as Dall sheep.
To conduct this study, the department is asking hunters to provide the heads of any sheep, mountain goat, or Delta bison harvested as well as the heads of certain moose, caribou, and muskox populations so that samples can be taken.
Fish and Game biologists and staff will then swab the nasal cavity to collect a sample. To be most helpful for analysis, the heads should be brought in fresh and kept cool but not frozen – and no later than 14 days after the animal is harvested. The hunter’s personal information will not be associated with the laboratory results but the location of the harvest is key to the surveillance.
Wildlife Veterinarian with Fish and Game, Kimberlee Beckman, explained what kind of symptoms hunters should be looking for.
“If they became sick from the bacteria, had ammonia they would be coughing, have their neck and head extended, having trouble breathing, breathing deeply or really fast. If someone sees that when they're hunting if they could report that exact location right away to Fish and Game then we ca go out and see if we need to collect that animal for testing,” she said.
Multiple strains of M. ovi have been detected in Dall’s sheep, mountain goats, caribou and moose in Alaska. All of the live and hunter harvested animals sampled appeared healthy and the department has no evidence that M. ovi has caused sickness or death in Alaska’s wild sheep or goat populations. However, M. ovi was associated with the death of an emaciated caribou.
Beckmen also emphasizes that M. ovi does not affect humans.
The presence of M. ovi in an animal does not necessarily mean it is sick or will become sick. The ability of M. ovi to cause pneumonia depends not only upon the strain of the bacteria but more importantly is impacted by multiple stressors on the animal including poor nutritional condition and/or environmental factors such as extreme weather. Both domestic and wild sheep and goats can carry the strains of bacteria they are adapted to while showing no signs of illness.
For specifics on which species in which locations ADF&G is requesting samples from, visit
For more information about M. ovi findings in Alaska, see the frequently asked questions at