Dall sheep at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The Yukon government is to implement a control order to protect wild sheep and goats from catching potentially lethal respiratory diseases from their domesticated relatives. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)

Wild sheep and goats in the Yukon to be protected from diseases by control order

The order, active on Jan. 1, 2020, will separate domesticated populations from wild ones

The Yukon government is to implement a control order to protect wild sheep and goats from catching potentially lethal respiratory diseases from their domesticated relatives.

What’s distinct about this plan, slated to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, is that it preemptively safeguards thinhorn sheep and mountain goats (there’s actually been no evidence of contamination of the populations in the Yukon, according to Marc Cattet, acting chief veterinary officer).

The bacterium in question is called Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi), which can cause pneumonia and other respiratory maladies.

Owners are being instructed to keep their animals below an elevation of 1,000 metres before the control order is officially rolled out.

Other conditions include keeping domestic sheep and goats in an inspected enclosure (also before the order is implemented), that animals be permanently tagged, up-to-date record-keeping on each animal and annual testing for pathogens, according to a fact sheet.

“It’s really a preventative step,” Cattet said. “It’s dealing with a potential issue before it happens. That’s what makes it exceptional, relative to other jurisdictions.”

Implementing the order is pegged at $752,000 over a six-year period, according to a press release. It will end in 2024. This money will go towards things like an inspector’s salary, annual tests, fencing and “compensation for destroyed animals.”

Cattet presented the order as a seemingly symbiotic relationship between opposing, sometimes clashing, aspirations.

“On the one hand it allows for conservation of wild thin horn sheep and mountain goats, but on the other hand it allows for a responsible domestic sheep and goat industry, so it’s not thwarting agriculture,” he said, noting that the imposed standards are likely to exceed those found elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.

The control order isn’t specific to farmers, either: even pet owners will need to comply.

“It’s even individual people that might have a goat or two they use to keep the grass cut short,” Cattet said.

In the western U.S., Alberta and British Columbia, “There’s a fairly lengthy history of bighorn sheep populations coming into close contact with domestic sheep or goat populations” while grazing, he said, the eventual consequence being, in some cases, “massive die-offs.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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