Bighorn sheep movement ecology and disease risk
Transmission of disease and pathogens from domesticated animals presents a substantial risk to wild species. Populations of Alberta’s provincial mammal, the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis), are at high risk from the novel bacterium Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M.ovi) which commonly occurs in domestic sheep and goat herds. In fact, a recent outbreak of M.ovi occurred near Sheep River Provincial Park in early 2023. PhD. student Ian Gazeley is using data from more than 100 GPS collared bighorn rams in a multi-year study on movement behaviour (seasonal migrations, forays, breeding relocations), habitat selection, and metapopulation connectivity to evaluate the risk of domestic animal disease transmission and understand how disease may spread among populations in Alberta. This project is a collaborative project between the University of Alberta, the Government of Alberta, Parks Canada, Wild Sheep Foundation, Alberta Fish & Game Association, Safari Club International – Northern Alberta Chapter, and the Alberta Conservation Association.