California Bighorn Sheep Presentation Last Week

Dear neighbours,

On Thursday evening we had some very interesting presentations discussing California Bighorn Sheep. The presentations were organized by the Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship (OSS) Society. 20 local residents joined us for a most interesting discussion on the health and welfare of these iconic animals. Residents on Anarchist Mountain are often thrilled to see California Bighorn Sheep here on our mountain on the steep slopes below Chapman Rd. and Observatory Road, usually seen from Hwy 3.

Presenting were:

Paula and Lia led off the discussion by pointing out the mission and activities of OSS. OSS is a leading conservation organization in the Okanagan that is working to preserve natural diversity in our region. The organization has been a key driver in saving and resorting wildlife habitat throughout the south Okanagan. Their efforts are to work with landowners to protect and restore habitat. They and their volunteers do field activities including rehabilitating ponds, riparian areas, plantings to prevent erosions and improve plant diversity  and monitoring the return of wild species to rehabilitated environs.

Jeremy is a lead biologist with the Wild/ Domestic Sheep Separation Program. This is a province-wide effort to deal with an epidemic of a serious wild sheep disease (Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae or M. ovi – which is a form of pneumonia that is deadly to wild sheep). The primary threatened population in BC are California Bighorn Sheep. These iconic animals with the males having curved horns (female horns are less prominent and not curved) are dying due to this disease. The disease is transmitted by nose-to-nose contact between domestic (farmed) sheep and wild sheep. Jeremy used the analogy of how various diseases can ravage a population when an exposed group that has no immunity to a disease. A good example was smallpox brought to the America’s from Europe after the 16th century.

The Wild/ Domestic Sheep Separation Program is working with farmers to find ways to keep domestic sheep from contacting wild animals. There is a lot of research underway in BC and in the USA to find scientific solutions (immunization etc.), but delivering these solutions is a practical problem. Separating herds is effective and in general famers are very supportive of trying to prevent contact with wild herds. Where wild and domestic sheep contact each other, there is an over 90% die off of the wild sheep. Contact is usually a death sentence for the California Bighorn Sheep.

The final speaker was Andrew Walker, a senior biologist with the BC government office in Penticton. Andrew spoke of a parasitic problem that is also attacking wild sheep. A tiny mite causes the animal to develop severe lesions, and sores , that the animal irritates. Big Horn sheep with droopy ears, or ears that appear to be tattered or ragged are signs of the problem. In many case the sheep will go deaf, and then fall to predation from coyotes, wolves and eagles in the case of lambs. Residents seeing sheep with these problems can report these sightings to the Ministry office in Penticton.

Mark McKenney,President, AMCS