Robin Routledge: S.O.S. (Save our sheep)

The pandemic we don't know about

By now all of us are familiar with the term pandemic. A pandemic is defined as an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.

Although, pandemic may be a relatively new word in most of our vocabularies, there is another pandemic that has been going on for decades. Mycoplasma Ovipneumoniae (M.Ovi) is a pathogen that is affecting wild sheep herds across North America.

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Just last month, another outbreak of M.Ovi was confirmed in one of the sheep herds in the Interior of British Columbia. This resulted in provincial wildlife officials having to kill two infected wild bighorn sheep lambs as a measure to save the rest of the herd.

Historically, there have been a number of multi-age die offs resulting in entire wild mountain sheep herds in BC getting wiped out because of M.Ovi. This disease is transmitted when wild sheep come in contact with domestic sheep or goats. Domestic livestock usually carry this pathogen with no signs of infection and are typically immune to its effects. Once transferred to wild sheep, the effects of M.Ovi are devastating; the only method to control further spread is euthanizing the infected wild sheep as there has not been a successful vaccine discovered. .

BC is home to four different species of wild sheep. The Stone’s Sheep is one of them and it is unique as it is only found in Northern BC. This gives us a global responsibility to look after this species so it doesn’t become the next Southern Mountain Caribou. Currently there are a number of programs that are monitoring the health status of Stone’s Sheep to determine if M.Ovi is present. Finding M.Ovi within the Stone’s Sheep population would be the last thing we as British Columbian’s would want to discover.

The Wild Sheep Society of BC is asking you — the public, the hunter, the non-hunter, the wildlife conservationists, and anyone who loves seeing wildlife on the landscape — to visit its website to learn more. Please write letters to your local MLA, Agricultural Minister Lana Popham and to Premier Horgan. In the letter. outline your concerns for wild sheep that are dying from this disease and tell them the government is not taking appropriate action to address this issue. Then please contact our elected officials and request a meeting.

If we want wild sheep and other wildlife on the landscape, then we need to work together to get the message across that something needs to be done now. The Wild Sheep Society of BC respects the needs of domestic producers and recognizes the importance of this industry. Now more than ever, we need to work together to find a solution so both wilds and domestics can co-exist without massive die-offs like we have already experienced.

Robin Routledge is a hunter and passionate wildlife conservationist.

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