Bighorn sheep in South Okanagan facing their own pandemic - InfoNews

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Bighorn sheep in South Okanagan facing their own pandemic

Local Bighorn sheep are facing a pandemic of their own as a contagious pneumonia has been found in Vaseux Lake sheep.
Image Credit: Alberta Fish and Wildlife
August 14, 2020 - 8:00 AM

The region’s Bighorn sheep are facing a potential pandemic of their own after cases of a highly contagious disease was found in two lambs.

Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia’s Chris Barker says his organization received word of sheep exhibiting symptoms of Mycoplasma ovipneumonia in South Okanagan herds, with recent tests confirmed in lambs in the Vaseux Lake herd.

Barker says it's hard to say how much devastation this will cause the South Okanagan sheep herds. A similar infestation in the early 2000s resulted in the loss of 75 to 90 per cent of the herd.

“So far it’s in this year’s lamb recruitment. We could lose the entire lamb crop this year. If it moves to adults of all ages, ewes and rams, we could potentially be faced with an all-age die off reminiscent of the early 2000s,” Barker says.

He says sheep don’t know the meaning of social distancing and legislation to protect the wild herds is badly needed.

“Until strict and drastic measures are put in place to ensure separation, we are going to continue to lose wild sheep to their own pandemic at an alarming rate,” he says.

One of the most important factors in controlling the disease is to keep domestic sheep and goats separated from wild sheep.

The disease poses a threat to more than the South Okanagan’s population of roughly 450 sheep. Barker says Fraser River herds are also threatened from Lillooet to Williams Lake, where 45 sheep were recently tested, and 11 euthanized.

Barker says the Chasm herd went from 125 sheep to 15 in two years due to the disease.

He says the public can help by being eyes on the ground in the South Okanagan, taking photos if possible and reporting any sign of sick lambs to the regional biologist.

He encourages people to write their MLA to request protection for the sheep.

“They need policy and regulation, and that requires public pressure,” he says.


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