Mycoplasma Bovis Fact Sheet — May 2022

2021 Case Count: 21 herds with confirmed cases in 10 states, according to the Mycoplasma Task Force with the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies at South Dakota State University.

 Disclaimer: The National Bison Association assumes no responsibility for the below content, provided for informational purposes only. This content is based solely on anecdotal information from volunteers in the bison industry who have experienced losses due to Mycoplasma bovis as the science of M. bovis in bison advances. 

 Conditions That May Cause Incidents of M. bovis 

  • Drought, poor pasture and water conditions.
  • Crowded, dusty, high-stress environments.
  • Excessive wildfire smoke.
  • Any type of stress — environmental, nutritional, behavioral, etc.
  • Parasite loads or other causes for a depressed immune system.

 Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may depend on the primary type of infection. The two most common areas of infection will occur in the throat (upper respiratory) or lungs (lower respiratory). The animal can be infected in both places, but the early symptoms appear different depending on the primary infection site but usually include coughing, sneezing, or runny nose. In some cases, the primary site is localized to leg joints, uterine tissue, mammary system, eyes, and other places, but these outbreaks seem less common. Symptoms may also be systemic and appear widespread in the animal’s systems upon necropsy.

 Animals will tend to separate themselves from the herd.

  • General lethargy is common.
  • Poor posture — animals will appear uncomfortable and humped up.
  • Dull eyes — “40-yard stare”. Animals may appear introspective and have no interest in surroundings or other animals.
  • The throat area may appear swollen, and animals may extend their neck to help increase air intake. Difficulty breathing may be apparent.
  • Animals don’t move willingly. If they move, you may observe a jerky gate or “short stepping” in the front legs, a possible result of lungs adhering to the ribcage, so the animal doesn’t want to take big steps with front legs. Joints may appear swollen, thus making moving painful and difficult. Additionally, animals are slow to move, limping and guarding extremities, usually from severe arthritic pain.
  • Noticeable swelling and weeping around eyes/orbital sockets.
  • Thick pus may be observed in the corner of the eyes.
  • Pacing, or walking by moving the feet on the same side instead of the normal four-beat alternating gait.

Management Suggestions

  • Use caution when bringing in new animals, especially if the new arrivals are from an open herd. If possible, isolate new animals for a quarantine period (e.g., 30-days) before introducing them into the herd.
  • After identifying suspect symptoms, separate infected animals from the herd as quickly as possible. Try to maintain a 100-yard minimum distance from healthy animals, ideally downwind.
  • Keep animals out of dusty or wet conditions whenever possible.
  • Limit stress on the animals. Keep hay and water within reach and consider providing ample free choice or lick-block minerals.
  • Slaughter is a reasonable option — rapid euthanasia can help prevent the spread to other animals. If this choice is made, the earlier it’s done, the better, and if harvesting for meat, the sooner, the better to increase salvage value.

Action Plans 

  • Autogenous vaccines are available, but strain mutation, outbreaks in vaccinated herds, and poor etiology understanding have raised vaccine efficacy questions. While vaccination with an autogenous Mycoplasma vaccine won’t harm animals, understand that it may or may not be effective. 
  • Consult with your veterinarian as needed to perform a necropsy on deceased animals and collect samples to send in for analysis so the strain of M. bovis can be identified and documented.
  • Document all cases in your herd through photographs, dates, weather and management conditions, and necropsy results.
  • Please fill out the Mycoplasma Anecdotal Interview, available here, and return it to Karen@bisoncentral.com. All information you provide is kept confidential. Interviews and other information will be shared with the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies for compilation in their reports and research.

Any U.S. affected producers may be eligible for financial assistance for animals lost to M. bovis. Please visit the USDA’s livestock Indemnification Program to learn more: https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/disaster-assistance-program/livestock-indemnity/index or Farmers.gov recovery resources: https://www.farmers.gov/protection-recovery.

Please note, this information will be formatted into a more substantial fact sheet with graphics and distributed to the membership shortly.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Teachers: Do you remember what you did last summer?

Teachers: Do you remember what you did last summer?

Summers are busy for all of us—and all too short with lots to do. As a teacher you may be trying to crowd in all the trips and events you missed the last 2 years.

One thing we can absolutely guarantee, if you come to southwest North Dakota for the BSC Dakota Bison Tour it will be a field trip you’ll never forget!

We’re sending out a special appeal to you who are teachers—because this entire BSC Bison Symposium is planned especially for you. It brings you the ammunition you need to tell the full Dakota buffalo story—at its most fascinating. And for good measure, it brings you right into the middle of a large buffalo herd.

This is a 3-day Buffalo Event that will enrich Teachers:

Bismarck State College’s Dakota Bison Symposium, June 23-25

Register now: call 701-224-5600 or visit

https://bismarckstate.edu/events/Dakota-Bison-Symposium/

An opportunity to learn about our National Mammal, the American Bison—past, present and future—through presentations, panel discussions, film, art, tours, exhibits, Native America music and dancing culinary arts, and a tour of authentic buffalo historic sites.

Here are 3 reasons for you to come on tour to southwest North Dakota—Friday, June 24:

  1. It’s a day you’ll never forget
  2. You’ll never look at buffalo the same again
  3. When you teach Buffalo and early Native American life in our state you’ll have tremendous stories to tell—and the resources to do it well.

We Made a Trial Run

One beautiful morning last summer Loren Luckow and I met Larry Skogen and Eric Holland—leaders of our BSC Bison Symposium planning committee from Bismarck—at the historic Kokomo in Lemmon SD.

Inside the Kokomo are John Lopez’s fighting full size bison bulls made from spare parts. And other sculped gems.

We’ll grab a quick take before heading out on buses to briefly circle the Petrified Park. Then on to Shadehill Buffalo Jump.

Larry Skogen is a hometown educator who spent his career as President of Bismarck State College in Bismarck. Then he retired and suddenly had plenty of enthusiasm and time (we remind him!) to help plan this Symposium.

Erik Holland is an educator too. In fact, Curator of Education at the North Dakota State Historical Society. The system in our state is that the Historical Society does North Dakota curriculum material for schools, and teachers can use what they want, as they think best for their own classes. Especially for 4th and 8th grades, and on to advanced classes in High School and College.

Together we took a day-long trial run—the 4 of us—just to see how long it would take at each stop and how feasible the whole Dakota Bison Symposium tour would be with maybe 2 or 3 buses filled with visitors.

Of course I wanted to show our visitors everything we have here!

But I’ve had some experience with my own family—kids and grandkids.

They all love to go out and see some of our Buffalo sites! But “some” is relative. They get tired of hiking over the hills—especially if it’s hot, or cold or really windy.

And when we stop for a picnic, they’re usually done. They pretty much want to stay in one place for awhile—or go home.

This is truly a unique place where we live—and especially the buffalo heritage. My husband Bert, a veterinarian thought so too. He enjoyed working buffalo herds.

But whenever I’d say “Wouldn’t it be fun to have a few buffalo? We have such a nice pasture right here at the edge of town. People would love to see them.”

He’d just shake his head; “Too hard on fences.” Then he’d quickly change the subject. He didn’t even want to talk about it.

In introducing you to our southwest region of North Dakota, I would love to show you many, many things. How about this:

The US Forest Service pasture in this photo shows buttes and badlands of the North Grand River in what we call Sitting Bull’s Last Stand. He and his hunting band from near Mobridge came and in two days—October 12 and 13, 1883—killed the very last great wild herd. About 1,200 buffalo in all.

 In his 1899 book “The Extermination of the American Bison,” William Hornaday wrote, “There was not a hoof left. That wound up the buffalo in the Far West. Only a stray bull being seen here and there afterwards.” In this photo you see a special group of visiting Buckskinners. We’ve led many tours here. It’s also been called the Butchering Site because the early settlers found so many bison skulls and bones here.

A beautiful, higher-altitude outcropping of rocky hills, the pine-covered Slim Buttes are a delightful place for hiking, camping and picnicking.

One of the last great hunts was here too. A hunting party of about 100—mostly the Lakota Dupree family, their relatives and friends came here near Christmas in 1880, hunted buffalo for 3 months in an extremely cold and snowy winter, as described by the missionary Thomas Riggs, invited along.

They killed some 2,000 buffalo and took home over 500 prime hides.

The Battle of Slim Buttes was launched when survivors from the Battle of the Little Big Horn under Chief American Horse camped here overnight on their way back to the Black Hills and were attacked by remnants of General Crook’s branch of the US army on Sept 9 and 10, 1876.

This horseshoe bend in the South Grand River is where we think the Native American Dupree family might have come over the horizon (at center left in this photo) in their horse-drawn buckboard with a few outriders to rescue calves that next spring after their winter hunt—in 1881 or 1882.

They became internationally famous for being one of the 5 family groups who saved the buffalo. Imagine them finding a herd of buffalo grazing here—drinking and resting among the big old cottonwood trees. Photo by FM Berg.

The last of the great wild buffalo herds came here around Christmas 1880 to the relative safety of what was then the Great Sioux Indian Reservation. They were in flight from white hide hunters armed with big guns who cut across the corner of Montana coming north and east in pursuit.

Instead of crossing the Yellowstone River, this half—about 50,000 in all—came east into the Great Sioux Reservation. The other half crossed the Yellowstone, then fled north into the waiting guns of hoards of white and Native hunters and were soon slaughtered. For nearly 3 years these last buffalo survived—longer than anywhere else. Native elders said they came to care for their Lakota brothers and sisters before the white hunters killed them all.

The Blacktail Trail in US Forest Service Pasture 9 offers a small lake stocked with bass, with fishing dock, picnic area and most dramatic of all—a 7-mile walking loop through rugged badlands, gumbo buttes and fascinating rock and gumbo formations. Photo FM Berg.

At the trailhead hikers hold open a spring-loaded gate designed to close itself—preventing cattle from invading the picnic site. FMB.

The Blacktail Trail offers a nice place to consider the complex relationship between the buffalo and Native people who lived here—from being a source of food to a font of social and cultural inspiration and connection to spiritual life. Native Americans honor the buffalo as sacred in ceremonies, stories, artwork, song and dance. FMB.

Blacktail Trail winds through rugged badlands and buttes to a hilltop blooming with wild flowers juniper trees and sagebrush. Many traditional Native stories of this land speak to the mystery of the origin of life. A common belief held by many Plains tribes is of the creation of humans and buffalo emerging from a cave or hole in the ground. FMB.

Here’s our agenda for the Friday, June 24 Field Trip:

7:15 am Check-in, Bus Assignments
7:45 am Buses Depart BSC

When you ride the bus you’ll hear buffalo tales and lore told by our local bus hosts: Ceil Anne Clement, Val Braun (both former teachers) and John Joyce, MD (retired doc and self-taught historian).

We hope also to have some Native Americans telling cultural buffalo traditions and stories along the way. Photo by Ronda Fink.

9:00 am Kokomo Sculpture Gallery, Lemmon, SD (single-day visitors meet buses here)

Inside the Kokomo Inn are John Lopez’s world-famous sculptures designed from spare parts. We’ll take a look at the buffalo and other treasures before heading out to briefly circle the Petrified Park in the buses. Then on to Shadehill Buffalo Jump. Photo credit John Lopez.

Shadehill Buffalo Jump    

One of our first stops is to view the authentic buffalo jump at Shadehill from across the lake on the north side.

It’s been authenticated as an ancient jump by three separate archaeological teams including the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. Photo by Vince Gunn.

11:45 am Lunch, Shadehill Recreation Area

Johnson Buffalo Herd, Jim Strand Manager

Jim Strand takes a break in the Shadehill, South Dakota, pasture with Hoolie his saddlehorse to chat with Billy Bob, his latest bottle calf. Jim is manager of the 400-cow Blair Johnson buffalo herd. Photo credit Donna Keller.

On the trial run we stopped to visit Jim Strand’s live buffalo herd and drove among them, while Jim circled them with the feed wagon, which the buffalo knew brought a tasty snack. They came running over the hill—the bulls grunting and groaning in their own way. Photo by RF.

Larry and Erik said they loved being in the middle of the buffalo herd. Our visitors always do. In our tours we’ve found that’s a favorite—whether local old timers or tourists from afar—as long as they know they’re safe. Staying on the bus with the windows open for shooting great photos and videos to their hearts content! Photo RF.

Being in the midst of it gave the historians a chance to watch individual cows, bulls and calves close-up. Red dogs are what forest rangers call these young bison calves that are still cinnamon colored. They dazzle in the sun. By about 3 months of age the hump and nubbin horns begin to appear and their coats change to dark brown or black like their moms. Photo RF.

Hiddenwood Hunt Historic Site 

Our historic site at Hiddenwood on US Highway 12 halfway between Hettinger and Lemmon honors the June 1882 hunt in this wide valley. At that time 2,000 men, women and children travelled here from Ft. Yates and over 3 days killed 5,000 buffalo. Their Indian Agent James McLaughlin came along and described that hunt in detail in his memoirs. Photo FMB.

One of the signs at Hiddenwood explains 2 major historical events that happened here.

In 1874, Lt. Col George Custer and his 7th Cavalry camped here on their expedition to check out claims of gold in the Black Hills. A few years later, in 1882, one of the last great buffalo hunts took place at Hiddenwood.

For each event about 2,000 people camped here. For hundreds and thousands of years this was a famous campground for many plains tribes hunting buffalo. Photo FMB.

Last Stand–The Sitting Bull Hunt

This is where the American buffalo made their last stand—in this remote and beautiful valley of the North Grand River and others like it within a radius of perhaps 30 or 40 miles. These US Forest Service lands look much as they did 150 years ago when it was home to the last wild buffalo herds.

In the distance you see long ridges stretching across the horizon from east to west in waves, each wave a long divide of peaks, plateaus and flat-topped buttes splashed with shades of violet, lavender and blue. Each successive wave a paler shade as it recedes into the background.

A reporter riding through here with Custer declared he could see “no less than 40 miles.” He wrote, “The view is fine indeed . . . The well-defined, sharpened lines projected on the sky by rolling prairies and distant buttes is marvelous beyond expression and can never be appreciated unless actually seen.” Photo credit Kendra Rosencrans.

We know the dates and successes when Sitting Bull and his hunting party came here and killed the last great wild herd—1,200 buffalo died on October 16 and 17, 1883.

We don’t know precisely where, but it was certainly here or within a few miles of this place. Early settlers called this the Butchering Site, because of the many buffalo skulls and bones lying around.

Leg bones like these, found here, had invariably been smashed open to extract bone marrow. Photo FMB.

5:30 Dakota Buttes Museum (Hettinger)

Did Larry and Erik want to see more buffalo sites? “It’s just enough. Not too much!” they said.  So we headed to the Dakota Buttes Museum to see Prairie Thunder first of all—our full-mount buffalo bull, donated by a local Bison rancher.

He was shot by a hunter who won the raffle to shoot it in the coldest week of January when the hide was at its best. Photo Dakota Buttes Museum, by Joel Janikowski.

You will finish off your BSC Dakota Bison Symposium tour in the Dakota Buttes Museum with a delicious buffalo dinner the evening of Friday June 24. Then back on the bus for your ride back to Bismarck. Photo Credit Melissa Lewis.

Sign up and Resources

More info from Eric Holland—What’s the follow-up?

“One of the pieces in getting graduate credit is for teachers to write a couple of pages in a very personal way about the material and how they plan to use it in their classes,” Holland says. “How they can think about the experiences they’ve had and what they are getting out of this. Each in your own way that connects all this.”

If you want Grad Credit:

    1. Sign up online with University of Mary at https://bscdakotabison.com/register/graduatecredit/), cost $45
    2. Attend the entire conference
    3. Write a short essay describing how materials and experiences of the BSC Bison Symposium will help you and your students get familiar with America’s National Mammal while aligned with the North Dakota Social Studies Standards
    4. Submit your essay to Erik Holland, Teacher of Record (701-328-2792) email eholland@nd.gov His office is in the ND Heritage Center and State Museum (https://statemuseum.nd.gov) and part of his duties relate to North Dakota social studies curriculum available at (https://NDStudies.gov)

You’ll go home with plenty of resources:

Our Dakota Buttes Visitors Council 88-page book, “Buffalo Trails in the Dakota Buttes: Self-Guided Tour” which I wrote in 2017 gives information on the 8 historic and contemporary bison tour sites in our area. Plus to complete anything we might have missed, we suggest you visit Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation and the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown, ND.

In addition you’ll have lots of brochures, videos and movies available to borrow or buy and access to online learning and curriculum sites. From all this you choose what you deem most valuable for your classes. Store the rest for later or for student research as opportunities arise.

You’ll have the resources you need to revisit these places and buffalo in your own community with knowledge you’ve never had before.

Holland has another idea: “Teachers who bring their own children to the symposium can think about ways to engage them in presenting the buffalo—and related Native American—experiences to their classes.”

He says the topics presented over the course of three days will provide information that can be used to align class materials with all social studies standards as directed by North Dakota Century Code 15.1-21-01: North Dakota Studies course requires that each ND public and nonpublic elementary and middle school provide students instruction in North Dakota studies, with an emphasis on the geography, history and agriculture of the state in the fourth and eighth grades.

“This event is a continuation of BSC’s work to bring humanities to the entire community,” Larry Skogen, BSC President Emeritius added. “We have a lot of really good partners in this event including the BSC Foundation, Indigenized Energy, NATIVE Inc, the State Historical Society of ND, and the Rockstad Foundation.”

We who made the trial run hope our timing that summer day was just right. Enough, and not too much.

Loren and I hope you’ll come back again. Bring your family, relatives and friends, to enjoy what you didn’t get to see this time!

 

##

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

1st 2022 bison born at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

1st 2022 bison born at Rocky Mountain Arsenal

(From 9 News)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo — Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMA) has a new resident.

The first bison calf of the season has been born at the Commerce City wildlife refuge.

Located ten minutes from downtown Denver, RMA is home to a herd of more than two dozen bison as well as deer, raptors, songbirds, waterfowl, prairie dogs and coyotes.

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) maintains two conservation bison herds in the Denver Mountain Parks system at Genesee Park and Daniels Park. 

The herds were originally established at Denver’s City Park by the Denver Zoo and the City of Denver. The herd was moved to Genesee Park in 1914 and expanded to Daniels Park in 1938.

In March, the City of Denver donated 33 bison to the Northern Arapaho Tribe, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes and Tall Bull Memorial Council to reintroduce wild bison and support conservation efforts on tribal lands.

The City and County of Denver said 15 American Bison were presented to the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, and 17 bison were transferred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma. One bison will be given to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.

“For over a century now, Denver has been the proud caretaker of these Bison herds, and we remain committed to their conservation as an integral part of the ecosystem here in the West,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

“We’re taking that commitment to a new level, and through this effort with our tribal partners, this is an opportunity to help establish, support, and sustain Native American conservation herds across the country.”  

Last year, Denver City Council approved an ordinance for the donation of American Bison from the City and County of Denver to American Indian Tribes and non-profit organizations.

The first transfer of bison took place in April 2021. Thirteen bison were transferred to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma and one to Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.

Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) has historically held an annual auction to keep its Genesee Park and Daniels Park bison herds at a healthy population size and promote genetic diversity within the managed bison population.

DPR said it will no longer conduct the auction but will work with its tribal partners to select tribes across the country to build and enhance conservation herds on tribal lands.

“The bison is not only a vital link to our past as Northern Arapaho, it is essential to our future as we restore this important part of our culture and heritage,” said Elma Brown, interim CEO of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. “I am honored to participate in this bison transfer and look forward to these beautiful animals joining our existing herd and returning to the home of their ancestors on the Wind River Reservation.”

“The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes are pleased to continue the growth of our historical food source. The Denver Mountain Parks Bison are a shot in the arm for our tribal nations. We wish Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Denver City Council and Denver Parks and Recreation staff a very gracious Hohóú/Né-á’eše (thank you),” said Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana.

The donation of surplus Denver Mountain Park bison to American Indian Tribes or American Indian Non-Profit organizations will continue through the year 2030, said DPR in consultation with its tribal partners: the Denver American Indian Commission, the Tall Bull Memorial Council and the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

New Threat to Buffalo—Mycoplasma bovis

New Threat to Buffalo—Mycoplasma bovis

After 30 years building up his herd here in the South Dakota badlands, Frederick DuBray is frustrated. “Everything I try seems to make it worse.” But he is determined to see it through. Photo credit Fred DuBray.

A recent New York Times article by Mitch Smith describes the disaster that has come to one Native American rancher in South Dakota who has worked 30 years to build up his buffalo herd.

He reported that Fred DuBray’s bison herd on the Cheyenne River Reservation has been ravaged by Mycoplasma bovis, a tiny bacterium that is decimating herds across the Plains and the West. Smith’s report He Spent Decades Protecting Buffalo; A Microscopic Invader Threatens That Work appears in the March 12, 2022 issue of the Times.

Since last year, his buffalo have been dying by the dozens, victims of a microscopic invader, Mycoplasma bovis, that has ravaged pastures across the Great Plains and the West, according to Smith.

The reporter describes riding for miles with DuBray through his large buffalo pasture that stretches for miles through the badlands. There he saw for himself black buffalo carcasses scattered in the sprawling pasture—now speckled with skeletons in various stages of decay.

“You have no idea what’s going to happen,” DuBray told him. “I really don’t even know what to do. Everything I try seems to make it worse.”

Now this man, who over the decades has helped lead efforts to re-establish herds on Native American lands, fears that the bacterium is a major problem to the future of the buffalo.

As he drove, DuBray scanned the brushy draws for lone buffalo standing off by themselves. As Smith writes, “There were many. Standing by themselves, or limping or coughing—all signs of an infection.”

DuBray indicated a small group of gaunt bison off to the side—against a riverbank.

“All three of those are sick—this one’s coughing,” he said. “They’re kind of gasping for air. Once they get where they’re like this, their lungs are totally destroyed already.”

“When a calf starts coughing and gasping for air, it’s probably too late—their lungs already may be destroyed,” notes Fred DuBray. SD Game Fish and Parks, Chris Hull.

Gaining Publicity is Worth it

Of course ranchers don’t like to talk about sickness in their herd—especially when they are losing animals. That can trigger one disaster on top of another.

Ranchers who have outbreaks are not required to report them, and many producers fear stigma or financial hardship if they come forward. So obtaining statistics on Mycoplasma deaths has been a challenge.

But DuBray has gone public about his losses and his frustration.

He says his business has already suffered as a result of the outbreak and his openness about it. He expects to stir up more abuse because he speaks publicly about what is happening in his buffalo herd.

But to help the cause is a risk he is willing to take. “People are trying to hush it up—to hide it,” he told me. “But I think it’s too important for that.

“It destroys the lungs, causes respiratory problems. And buffalo are social; they are always trying to lick each other.”

DuBray grew up on a cattle ranch and used to work with the Cheyenne River tribal herd. He says he’ll never go back to raising cattle.

Zach Ducheneaux, the national administrator of the Federal Farm Service Agency and also from the Cheyenne River tribe, said the recent decision to compensate ranchers for their losses should give them a reason to detail their losses, eventually leading to better data about the scale of the problem.

“What’s the point of sharing your information if the door is closed?” asked Ducheneaux, who previously served as a tribal council member at Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and has worked with DuBray.

“Now that we’ve opened it, I think we can have a freer communication with the buffalo industry about what their numbers are like, what their issues are.”

Both agree that for years the ranchers’ fight against M. bovisWi has been complicated by lack of information about its effect on buffalo.

Ranchers and researchers have relied on anecdotal accounts to come to a consensus that the ongoing surge in cases is probably the worst ever, even as they disagree about whether the bacterium is likely to have dire, species-level consequences.

“There’s just a ton that we don’t know about why this is happening and, therefore, how to manage it,” said Dr. Jennifer Malmberg, a veterinary pathologist from the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory who has examined some of Fred DuBray’s buffalo.

Widespread Infection: Causes and Effects

Jeff Martin, who grew up on a Wisconsin buffalo ranch and is now the Research Director at South Dakota State University’s new Center of Excellence for Bison Studies in Rapid City, said there is a link between the growing number of Mycoplasma bovis cases and the warming climate. This can cause stress for buffalo, weakening their immune systems and making them more susceptible to infections.

Dr. Martin has gathered a task force to help find a solution to the M. bovis problem, as they also call it. He said he knows of about 20 bison herds with confirmed Mycoplasma outbreaks in the last 18 months. He adds that it is made worse by drought conditions across the plains.

The Northern Plains, where many of the outbreaks have emerged, have experienced severe drought in recent years.

Many of the known cases in bison have hit private commercial herds, but officials said an outbreak last fall at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas killed about 22 animals, around 25% of their herd.

“This is just one of the expected outcomes of climate change worsening: drought, getting hotter, wildfires,” said Martin. When buffalo are run down or stressed they are also more vulnerable.

“It’s not just that you’re having poor forage quality. You also have poor access [to good water]. As droughts happen, that water begins to dry out and concentrates minerals and salts that are also not good for animals—let alone bison.

“So as they’re having to drink these less quality waters, that just is another compounding factor for their immune function.”

Martin adds what makes Mycoplasma bovis so hard to fight is that it doesn’t have a cell wall, which is what antibiotics target. That’s how most of them work—by destroying the cell wall.

The buffalo is integral to the Lakota Sioux creation story, said Richard Williams, a consultant on Native American issues who is Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne. Lakota people, who for centuries migrated across the Plains with the buffalo and were sustained by its meat, consider the buffalo a relative.

“It’s not just an economic enterprise,” DuBray agrees. “It’s a cultural relationship that I’m trying to restore, as well.

Ongoing Research with Mycoploasma bovis

Dr. Murray Jelinski, a Canadian veterinarian who studies Mycoplasma bovis at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon told the Times:

“When you look at these things under a microscope, they’re kind of a blob—they’re kind of like Jell-O, they sit there—without a firm cell wall. A whole group of antimicrobials don’t work against Mycoplasmas because they don’t have a cell wall.”

Several vaccines tests did not confer protection against M. bovis and even made it worse. Researchers are baffled. The result was post-challenge deaths and increased dissemination of the bacteria.

To learn what NOT to do, researchers might study the National Institute of Health PubMed report Developments in Vaccines caused by Mycoplasma bovis, published June 9, 2021.

I hope they are challenged—not discouraged—by its conclusion:

“Several vaccine tests did not confer protection against M. bovis and even made it worse. The result was post-challenge deaths and increased dissemination of the bacteria in the host.

“To some extent, the vaccine partially reduced M. bovis joint colonization. However, it did not protect against the M. bovis spreading from the inoculated to non-inoculated joints, which was observed in both examined groups of calves.

“Inactivated vaccines are the most commonly used in studies to prevent infections with M. bovis. However, it is generally considered that inactivated vaccines have some disadvantages, including high production costs as well as possible modifications of the proteins of the strains during subculture.

The PubMed article reviews a number of attempts at developing vaccines.

“Many studies have been done using experimental vaccines but to date commercially available vaccines are available only in the US and their efficacy is not fully satisfactory.

“Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), one of the great historic plagues of cattle alongside the now eradicated rinderpest, continues to inflict serious losses on livestock in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

“But why is CBPP continuing to cause problems when it has been eradicated from Europe, Australia, Asia and North America?

“Sadly, because of economic hardships, civil wars and droughts affecting the countries where the disease is endemic and the inability to prevent transboundary movement of livestock, control in Africa seems further away than ever. CBPP is a severe pneumonia of cattle caused by the wall-less bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides.

“The disease is localized in the lungs, where it causes a highly characteristic ‘marbling’ of the lungs in the acute stages and lesions known as a ‘sequestra’ in the chronic form of the disease, according to the government publication PubMed.

Clinical signs include rapid breathing, fever, nasal discharge, anorexia, cough on exertion and sudden death. Mortality rates can exceed 50% when the disease appears for the first time in herds.

The difficulty is identifying affected animals quickly enough to prevent the disease spreading because, though the lung may be very severely damaged, clinical signs are often lacking.

“Inactivated vaccines are the most commonly used in studies to prevent infections with M. bovis. However, it is generally considered that inactivated vaccines have some disadvantages

“Clearly, next generation vaccines to replace T1/44, should, ideally, be stable, given in a single dose, provide a longer duration of immunity and higher levels of protection and not cause adverse reactions.”

“A vaccine that would confer better immunity is urgently needed. What is clear, is that any M. bovis vaccine needs to be part of a wider vaccination program involving other respiratory pathogens,” NIH researchers say.

As stated prophetically by researchers in 2004: “this is by no means assured.” Indeed, since then no vaccines to date have met all these criteria. Despite encouraging immune responses, cattle, given an immune-stimulating complex (ISCOM) vaccine, had similar gross pathological and histopathological scores as non-vaccinated controls.

“In spite of two vaccinations at 6-weekly intervals and high antibody responses there was no evidence in the animals used of any protection afforded by either preparation; indeed, there appeared to be an exacerbation of pathology in the vaccinated animals compared to unvaccinated contact controls.

“Lesions and fibrin were most extensive and pleural fluid more abundant in vaccinated animals. In one group, half the cattle died before the end of the experiment, while a quarter died in the other group, compared to just under half that died in the control group.

“Data on the present commercial vaccines in use today are modest at best, with one showing an efficacy of 1%. Clearly, improvements need to be made before control of this fast-emerging disease is possible.”

Another vaccine did not protect against the effects of articular challenge with the virulent M. bovis strain, despite effective stimulation of the humoral response. Post-challenge, the clinical disease and the joint lesions in the vaccinated calves were similar to those observed in the non-vaccinates, which was additionally confirmed by histopathology.

The PubMed report continued, “The countries with the highest prevalence include Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Angola. Indeed, this has hardly changed over the last 20 years, showing that most attempts at control have been unsuccessful.

“The disease in sub-Saharan Africa is mostly characterized by occasional severe outbreaks when native herds are exposed to infected animals moved often illegally across borders. Moreover, due to the weak economies of many countries, stamping out the movement control, slaughter and compensation seen in Europe are not options.

“A Scientific Conference in Gaborone in 1994 concluded that vaccination of cattle remained the best way of controlling CBPP, but a vaccine that would confer better immunity than the T1 strain vaccine being used was urgently needed. Over a quarter of a century later, scientists came to the same conclusion.

“Calls for studies into the immunology of the diseases have also failed to provide sufficient insight to improve vaccines. No inactivated, sub-unit or attenuated vaccines have been developed which improve upon the live TI vaccine developed in the 1950s.

“The limitations of the T1 strain vaccine have been long recognized: short duration of immunity and tendency to cause adverse reactions, and because it is only semi-attenuated, it can lead to outbreaks in closed herds.

“Mass vaccination had been highly successful in many countries but failed in others due mainly to the inability to maintain annual vaccination.

“What is clear, however, is that any M. bovis vaccine needs to be part of a wider vaccination program involving other respiratory pathogens, including BVD, PI3V, Mannheimia, Pasteurella and possibly others.”

New Resources on the Way

“We are excited to assist the bison industry in this way,” says Martin, who is officially in charge of bison research in the US—as Director of the Center for Excellence for Bison. “We look forward to contributing in such a large and positive way that identifies some relief for bison managers while research advances to discover more effective vaccines and treatments.” He can be contacted at SDSU (605-688-4792) or email sdsu.extension@sdstate.edu.

Jim Matheson, now Director of the National Bison Association, located in Colorado—moving up from his position after many years as Assistant Director—tells me NBA will shortly have a one-page handout on M. bovis and what producers should watch for so they might relieve stress on bison and other problems at an early stage. www.bisoncentral.com

A world-wide problem, Mycoplasma bovis was first isolated in the US in 1961 from the milk of a cow with mastitis. It is one of 126 species of genus Mycoplasma, and the smallest living cell in nature.

It causes many diseases including mastitis in dairy cows, arthritis in cows and calves, likely late-term abortion and various other diseases. Mostly the M. bovis affects cattle, but except for calves not as fatally as it does bison.

Seemingly buffalo have no natural immunity against its devastating ravages. There’s no effective vaccine or treatment for M. bovis infections.

We may think that should be easy to solve. But the experts know better.

As of June 2017, only two OECD nations (an international economic organization of 34 countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade were considered to be free of Mycoplasma bovis. They are New Zealand and Norway, but in July 2017 some cattle near Oamaru, New Zealand were found to be positive; see 2017 Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

Qualifying for FSA Indemnity Program

Dark buffalo carcasses were scattered over Fred DuBray’s big pasture—skeletons in various stages of decay. Photo NPS.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced that bison death losses resulting from Mycoplasma bovis are eligible for the livestock indemnity program that reimburses ranchers to some extent. Authored by Jeff Martin, it is retroactive to cover loses in 2021.

Ducheneaux urges: “For now, please encourage any of your producers to notify their local FSA office of any and all losses as soon as possible and keep them updated as to further losses they may sustain and ask for an ELAP application.”

Also, if there is overlap of Mycoplasma losses with drought, the USDA requests that weather be documented as well to assist with decisions. Drought conditions for your area over the past year can be determined using the comparison Drought Monitor online tool.

Ironically, the most urgent recommendations in Martin’s article on M. bovis is how to dispose of infected carcasses. Financial assistance is available under the name Emergency Animal Morality Management as part of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Agricultural producers and owners of nonindustrial private forestland and Tribes are eligible to apply for EQIP funds. To receive assistance, papers must be filed and approved before disposal of animal carcasses. Before payment, a mortality certification is required by a veterinarian or an animal health specialist.

Qualifying losses include those greater than 5% in young bison under 400 lbs and/or greater than 1.5% in mature bison larger than 400 lbs. Acceptable proof must be provided as follows:

  1. Of a beginning inventory prior to infection that year and a final tally of deaths by four categories: Bison less than 400 lbs. (broken down by males and females) and bison greater than 400 lbs. (broken down by males and females).
  2. That your property experienced adverse weather event(s) within a reasonable timeframe before the bison died, including, but not limited to, extreme cold, oscillating temperatures and/or precipitation and/or drought;
  3. Your local veterinarian’s certification of death loss attributed to Mycoplasma bovis. This may include, but is not limited to, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test of at least one animal to confirm that Mycoplasma bovis was present in the individual and that symptoms were present in the remaining individuals. The FSA allows euthanasia of animals suffering from symptoms of Mycoplasma bovis, but the diagnosis must be verified by a veterinarian.

“We need to know more about Mycoplasma bovis. The manner of development of this disease in bison. We also need a well-designed and systematic scientific study of the distribution, frequency, patterns and risk factors for bison,” says Dr Woerner, Montana Veterinarian.

Prevention for Now

Dr Don Woerner, a veterinarian friend of mine from Laurel Montana visited Fred Dubray’s ranch and observed his wide-open South Dakota badlands pastures where there’s plenty of freedom for the buffalo.

“We need to know more about Mycoplasma bovis,” Woerner says. “The manner of development of this disease in bison. We also need a well-designed and systematic scientific study of the distribution, frequency, patterns and risk factors for bison. How it acts. Bison don’t have immunity to this.

It is unclear whether research underway can come in time to help Fred DuBray, whose herd continues to dwindle. Photo Chris Hull SD GFP.

“Feeding low-level antibiotics to our domestic livestock and poultry has never been a good practice and the fact we are getting all these strains of M. bovis may be a result of it.

“I like to see bison managed like a wild herd. Not using antibiotics for buffalo—that can cause complications. These organisms mutate and change.

“I don’t really like bringing buffalo together for sales or competition—and then taking them back home again after they’ve been with other animals.

“We need to quarantine them in a good facility before putting them back in the herd. Some say for 30 days; I prefer 45 to 60 days. Bio security is important—we need to be aware of it.

“We have to be able to deal with buffalo as they are. Sometimes its hard: bison have evolved without the help of man. What’s a good animal? Some have genetic issues.

We should not manage buffalo with a ‘cattle mentality.’ Bison should be celebrated and managed as the wild animal they truly are.”

Dr. Danielle Buttke, a veterinary epidemiologist with the National Park Service who also has visited the DuBray ranch to study the deaths, said that the limited buffalo gene pool, a legacy of the large-scale slaughter during westward expansion, has made it harder for the species to withstand disease outbreaks.

“Without urgent action, Mycoplasma threatens to undo much of the painstaking conservation work that has stabilized buffalo herds.

“It’s not just the loss of individual animals,” Dr. Buttke added. “It’s a very, very different impact to a species that already suffers from genetic bottlenecking and isolation than it is in a cattle system.”

Dr. Buttke said she was working to develop a better test to detect buffalo carrying the bacterium without showing symptoms, which would allow ranchers to isolate those animals before they could spread Mycoplasma widely. She worries about mutations, about species-to-species transmission, about the challenge of developing treatments.

It was not clear that any of the research would come in time to help Fred DuBray and his wife, Michelle Fredericks DuBray, whose animals continue to suffer and whose herd continues to dwindle, according to the Times article.

“The ones that are surviving are they going to be OK?” asked Michelle DuBray. “Are they going to get this next year? Do we keep the calves? What do we do?”

###

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Heavy snow in Interior Alaska has Bison hanging out on plowed roads

Heavy snow in Interior Alaska has Bison hanging out on plowed roads

Bison Range in Alaska interior. Alaska Dept Fish and Game.

Kurt Schmidt heard the bison hooves smack on the car before he saw what happened.

He’d been driving home from work on a small road near his Delta Junction home on a dark January night when he saw a herd of bison ahead. On the other side of the herd, a small car was also waiting to pass the animals.

Schmidt said he stopped his pickup truck and waited. Suddenly, the herd turned around and ran. Several of the huge animals stumbled over the car.

“I don’t think they intended to run over it,” he said. “They pretty much ran into it, slid up the hood and ran up over the top.”

The car’s driver moved forward quickly after the incident, and Schmidt could see hoof marks on the dashboard less than a foot from the steering wheel. The event could have been a lot worse.

Deep snow this winter has caused more bison to move onto plowed roadways in the Delta Junction area, said Bob Schmidt, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“The animals don’t want to get off the plowed roadways because it’s so hard on them,” he said. “It’s chest-deep snow and it’s cutting up their legs and so they’re using the roadways as travel corridors.”

And more animals on the road has led to an increased number of collisions with vehicles. This year at least nine bison have died after being struck by cars. By comparison, only a couple usually die that way each year, Schmidt said.

The crashes haven’t resulted in any injuries to people, but some vehicles have been significantly damaged, said Austin McDaniel, communications director for the Alaska State Troopers. An adult plains bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

Dodi Wontorski was riding in the passenger seat of her Chevy pickup two weeks ago after she’d picked up her boyfriend at the airport. They were headed home to Tok around 8 or 9 p.m. when Wontorski saw a herd of bison in front of them on the road. By then, it was too late to stop.

“He slammed on the brakes and he was able to at least move the truck toward the smaller ones — the big ones were huge,” she said. “And I thought for sure we were going to die.”

The truck crash injured several bison, she said. The front of the truck crumpled on impact — Wontorski said it’s totaled.

A trooper dispatched two of the bison, Wontorski said.

Had they been in a smaller vehicle or driving fast, the situation would have been much worse, Wontorski said.

“It was scary as can be,” she said.

It’s normal for bison to cross the Alaska Highway each year, said Schmidt, the wildlife biologist, because they move south toward calving grounds in the spring and summer. But bison usually steer clear of humans and roads, he said.

“But now they’re not off the road for hours or even a day or more,” Bob Schmidt said. “They just want to hang out right on the road.”

Kurt Schmidt (no relation to the biologist) said it’s become routine since January for him to run into herds of bison sleeping on or walking along the road.

Plains bison in the Delta River floodplain in 2015. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

Bison activity in recent months has been centered on a roughly 20-mile section of the Alaska Highway east of Delta Junction, Bob Schmidt said. The Delta Junction Bison Range is a 9,000-acre protected area about 12 miles southeast of the town, established by the Legislature in 1979 as a place for the herd of several hundred animals to range in winter without damaging agriculture.

This winter, some bison have turned to farmers’ fields because it has been so difficult for them to access forage buried under the snow. There’s a layer of ice up to 2 inches thick within the snowpack that has further complicated foraging.

“Bison are resourceful animals and have stomped out areas in hayfields to get through the ice layer to grasses below,” Clint Cooper, a Fish and Game technician, said in a statement. “However, many of those fields are owned by local farmers, who don’t appreciate the bison’s resourcefulness.”

In hopes of drawing bison away from farms and roads, bulldozer crews from Fish and Game and the Alaska Division of Forestry have been clearing snow from more than 30 miles of trails in the last few months to provide room for the animals to travel and access forage. About 200 acres of fields were also cleared.

Officials said the plan has been working: During a flight in February, biologists saw 70 bison using the fields and trails.

Bob Schmidt said it’s important to give bison a wide berth and allow them to find a space to get off the road.

And one of the most important things is just to drive slowly. Bison are most active at night and can be difficult to see.

“I’m afraid that I’m going to hit one,” Kurt Schmidt said. “I can only see so far and those things at night — they reflect no light whatsoever. So usually, if you’re going 60 when you see them, it’s too late. If they’re in your path you’re going to hit them.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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