KENAI, Alaska (AP) — Alaska is asking hunters to bring the heads of certain animals killed this season to state wildlife officials so the animals can be screened for respiratory pathogens.

The state Department of Fish and Game is expanding its monitoring program of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, a bacterium that can cause respiratory disease in big game animals, the Peninsula Clarion reported Sunday.

The bacterium, also referred to as M. ovi, was previously believed to be restricted to sheep and goats. But it was detected earlier this year in Alaska moose and caribou. The pneumonia-like disease has been connected with mass game die-offs in the continental U.S., and it was linked to the death of an emaciated caribou from the Fortymile herd near Fairbanks.

"The presence of M. ovi in an animal does not necessarily mean it is sick or will become sick," the department said in a statement. "The ability of M. ovi to cause pneumonia depends not only upon the strain of the bacteria but more importantly is impacted by multiple stressors on the animal including poor nutritional condition and/or environmental factors such as extreme weather."

Wildlife officials are asking hunters to submit the heads of Dall sheep, mountain goats and Delta bison within two weeks of them being killed. They also ask for moose, caribou and muskoxen from certain locations to be submitted for testing.

Officials plan to swab the animals' nasal cavities and send the samples to a lab for testing. Officials ask for the heads to be kept cool but not frozen.

"Thanks to hunters willing to bring in the head of harvested animals in those wildlife populations we'd like to sample," said Bruce Dale, director of the state division of wildlife conservation. "We know that hunters understand the importance of disease surveillance and we appreciate their assistance with this effort."

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Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com