South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks officials are concerned by new reports of the presence of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, a pneumonia-causing bacterium, in several new species. The bacterium has recently been identified in bison, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, and caribou by wildlife officials, reports the Black Hills Pioneer.
These findings could be groundbreaking if proven correct, as the disease was previously thought to only exist in sheep and goat species. The Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae has devastated bighorn sheep herds in the past, including Custer State Park’s herd in 2004 and again in 2015. In 2004, the sheep in Custer State Park contracted pneumonia, and between 70-80 percent of the herd was lost. The new report could change how GFP officials manage the sheep populations.
There are two possible scenarios that could arise if further research demonstrates that this disease could impact other species like it has impacted bighorns in the past. Either the disease could decimate other species of ungulates’ herds, or the other species could act as carriers of the disease. If Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae can be transmitted between species, that could explain how the Deadwood bighorn herd contracted the disease. 20 of the herd have died of what was presumably pneumonia, despite rigorous testing before the animals were brought from Canada by GFP officials.
No species other than bighorns have tested positive for Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in South Dakota yet, but GFP has yet to do more testing. There have been past instances of successful management of this disease in South Dakota bighorn herds. Managers discovered that only a small number of sheep actively transmitted the disease. While the most of the herds’ lambs from 2015 were lost when they found the disease in the herd again, removing the three transmitting sheep kept the rest of the herd from contracting the disease and none have constricted the disease since.
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