Bighorn sheep in Okanagan facing their own pandemic

Pandemic in bighorn sheep

While humans are dealing with their own pandemic, the Okanagan's bighorn sheep population is facing its own devastating disease.

Mycoplasma ovinpneumoniae (M.Ovi), an infection capable of laying waste to wild sheep herds, was recently confirmed in two lambs in the Vaseux Lake region according to the Wild Sheep Society of B.C.

Unfortunately, those two babies had to be put down to stop the spread.

Society project chair Chris Barker said much of the problem comes from wild sheep interacting with local domestic ones, since sheep don't know the concept of social distancing.

"Because it's private property people are allowed to do what they want, but because the wild sheep are the property of the Crown, it should be up to the Ministry of Agriculture to actually put something in place in high-risk zones to protect our wild sheep from these die-offs," Barker said. 

"The die-offs, we can lose up to 85 per cent of the sheep."

Studies have shown that keeping wild and domestic species separate goes a long way to stopping the disease in its tracks. 

"We need an exclusion zone," Barker said, or treatment on domestic sheep, to keep transference tamped down. 

The society is launching a social media campaign to raise awareness about M.Ovi and asks that anyone concerned about the bighorn sheep population send a letter to B.C. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham. 

"Just say you know what, we want our wild sheep protected from domestic sheep. We can make domestic sheep and wild sheep coexist, but we need [Ministry of Agriculture] support to do that."

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