Back to top

Rapid Assessment of Bighorn Sheep for a Respiratory Disease

  • LOCATION: South Dakota, Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, and beyond! USA and Canada
  • DOGS: Frost, Leo, Riggs, Stella, & Zoey
  • PURPOSE: To determine the use of detection dogs as a screening tool for Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae infection in bighorn sheep
  • TARGET SCENTS: Bighorn sheep scats and Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae bacterial cultures
  • PARTNER/CLIENT: Wild Sheep Foundation, WAFWA- Wild Sheep Initiative, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the National Parks Service, South Dakota State University, Oglala Sioux Parks and Recreation Authority, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, British Columbia Ministry of Forests and a growing number of other wildlife management agencies!


Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi) is a pneumonia-causing bacteria that can be transmitted from domestic to wild sheep and continues to spread within bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) herds and populations.  The dramatic effects of M. ovi range from low (or no) lamb birth rates and survival to whole-herd all-age die-offs. M. ovi is the greatest threat to bighorn sheep, and fast and reliable pathogen detection is needed to effectively manage disease in affected populations. 

Detection dogs have proven to be fast and effective in various disease detection studies, and now WD4C is developing the use of conservation detection dogs as a tool for M. ovi-affected bighorn sheep. We’re assessing screening at surveillance events where bighorn sheep are individually tested for the disease, as well as a  field-going method to search the landscape for infected scat to identify local herds that have the pathogen.

Detection dogs trained on M. ovi-positive bacterial cultures, swabs of nasal passages, and scats integrated into surveillance events would provide wildlife managers with the fastest and most reliable in-field testing method available at this time.

Detecting M. ovi-positive scat on the landscape would also offer the only non-invasive disease screening method currently available.

Development of these methods is made possible by funding from Wild Sheep Foundation and their unwavering commitment to the conservation of bighorn and other wild sheep, and all of our tribal and state wildlife agencies who welcome the development of more tools to help sustain and restore bighorn sheep populations.

A special thanks to all the state wildlife agencies and organizations that have offered extra support and samples, including Montana State University, Washington State University, Nevada, Montana, California, Wyoming, Texas, and Arizona.

Learn more about M. ovi with this award-winning documentary, “Transmission”, presented by the Wild Sheep Society of British Columbia.