Bighorn sheep disease surveillance

Alberta is monitoring bighorn sheep for evidence of disease.

Services and information

Pneumonia outbreaks can devastate local herds and spread rapidly within and among bighorn sheep populations.

Attention hunters

If you see sick or dead bighorn sheep please contact your local Government of Alberta biologist. For contact information, see:

Fisheries and Wildlife Management – Contacts

Bighorn sheep disease overview

  • Bighorn sheep are particularly susceptible to lung diseases.
  • Proactive surveillance helps avoid disease outbreaks.
  • Finding disease outbreaks early can minimize mortality.
  • If a pneumonia outbreak occurs, mortality can be extensive and it may take many years for the sheep population to recover.

Disease surveillance

Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi)

Wildlife agencies and wild sheep advocates across North America are collecting critical information on pneumonia in wild sheep.

Active testing for M. ovi bacteria as well as population monitoring are key components of this work. Results will:

  • improve effective management strategies to reduce risk
  • improve herd recovery following an outbreak
  • track new M. ovi strains, which tend to be more lethal and associated with new sources of disease

Active ongoing surveillance for M. ovi and early detection of the associated disease in wild sheep in Alberta began in 2017.

  • Nasal areas of hunter-killed rams, research sheep or found dead animals are swabbed.
  • Almost 250 sheep were tested since 2017.
  • All were negative for M. ovi (updated April 2020).
  • The Wild Sheep Foundation of Alberta is a key funder and contributor to this work.

For additional details on bighorn sheep disease surveillance in Alberta, see:

Sinus tumours

  • Sinus tumours occur in wild sheep as well as domestic sheep and goats.
  • Sinus tumours thicken the soft tissues that line the nasal cavities.
  • Normally, bacteria like M. ovi are swept out of the upper respiratory tract. Thickening of the sinus linings can prevent the bacteria from leaving.
  • Thus, sinus tumours may increase the likelihood of a pneumonia outbreak and slow subsequent recovery of the bighorn population.
  • Some wild sheep herds with recurrent pneumonia in lambs have a high occurrence of sinus tumours in adults.
  • The cause of sinus tumours is unknown.
  • Alberta contributes to a regional effort across western Canada and U.S. to better understand sinus tumours in bighorn sheep.

Information for sheep hunters

All sheep hunters

Please contribute to North American research on sinus tumours. For information on how you can help, see:

This procedure does not affect the taxidermy process or the quality of mounts.

Non-trophy sheep hunters

We need to test more ewes and lambs for M. ovi. Some females develop immunity and become chronic carriers of M. ovi Even a few chronic carriers in a herd can cause recurrent outbreaks.

For more information on how to have your sheep tested for M. ovi see:

Taking nasal swabs takes less than 15 minutes. A summary of swab results will posted on this site.

Additional resources

Contact

Connect with a local Government of Alberta biologist or Provincial Disease Specialist (Edmonton) for more information about pneumonia in bighorn sheep:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-0000 and ask to be connected to a government wildlife biologist or 780-427-3462 in Edmonton

Also see: