Increasing numbers of Alaska wildlife testing positive for Movi bacteria

Time lapse cameras caught this mountain goat gazing at the LeConte Glacier terminus. (Photo courtesy of Christian Kienholz, University of Alaska Southeast)

There’s more evidence of a bacteria potentially dangerous to some Alaska wildlife.

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State Division of Wildlife Conservation Director Bruce Dale says samples from Dall’s sheep and mountain goats have tested positive for the bacteria referred to as “Movi.”

”Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae is a bacteria that is found in caprinae which are things like sheep and goats and muskox,” Dale said.

Dale says Movi can paralyze the cilia, or hair like structures, in the animal’s airways, making them vulnerable to respiratory diseases like pneumonia, which can be devastating.

”Extreme morbidity and mortality, and those have been scene in Lower 48 big horn sheep populations,” Dale said.

Dale emphasizes that Movi strains vary in strength, and that the animals that tested positive in Alaska were healthy. The bacteria has long been common in Lower 48 wild and domestic goats and sheep. It’s in about 4 percent of Alaska’s domestic populations, and two samples from wild Brooks Range sheep tested positive for Movi in 2009. Dale says the latest positives confirmed by the state this month, include 13 from Dall’s sheep, and five from mountain goats.

”I think because it’s widespread now — we’ve seen it from the Kenai to the Brooks Range — that does suggest that it’s likely it’s been around a while,” Dale said. “Maybe a very long time.”

Dale says the new detections follows the recent year’s development of better tests and more widespread surveillance.

”The tests have evolved quite a lot in that time,” Dale said. “And a veterinarian told me just this morning that the rule for disease is the more you look for it, the more you find it.”

Dale says the state continues to ramp up field surveillance and monitoring, and is working with a laboratory to identify the Movi strains in Alaska. He attributes movement of the bacteria into Alaska to climate change and globalization.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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