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The Canadian Papers - "Smoke and Mirrors?"

Canadian hypothetical risk assessments have been and are being used as a basis for banning pack llamas on public lands by various government agencies. Do they "pass muster" and are they based on science? Let's take a closer look.

It was stated during the August 5, 2021 BLM Virtual Meeting by BLM biologist (Jim Herriges) that BLM’s decision to prohibit pack llamas is based on Canadian hypothetical “Risk Assessments.”  I’d like to point out that the authors of these Canadian papers state (1) “…there is insufficient data available to clearly assess the role of camelids as a source of disease at this time…..” and (2) “Risks from camelids to wildlife in British Columbia remain hypothetical after this risk assessment, as no direct evidence was found to implicate camelids as sources of significant diseases in wildlife in BC or elsewhere.”  So by their own admission, the authors conclude camelid disease transmission is hypothetical and based on conjecture (not science) Furthermore, these papers have not been peer reviewed.

In the email (below) co-author Helen Schwantje provides some critical insight about the Canadian papers that further demonstrate why it is inappropriate to use these documents as a basis to ban or restrict the use of camelids based on a disease risk to wild sheep.

A.      “The paper was not published and therefore not submitted for peer review, it was simply a tool to direct decision making in BC.”

B.      The reported use of pack llamas in an area where an outbreak of contagious ecthyma (CE) in mountain goats occurred was  anecdotal of course with no names or records,”

C.      Both documents have repeatedly been reported inaccurately, a disease risk assessment simply describes risk, its up to the entity that is making a decision on that risk how they use it.”

Text below from an email of public record from Helen Schwantje- April 22, 2020 


From: Schwantje, Helen FLNR:EX []

Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 2:32 PM

Subject: RE: Camelid Risk Assessment Question

 Hi Philip,

The document you refer to was developed originally in 2003 in response to questions to me by wildlife managers in BC who asked if the use of llamas in the backcountry presented disease risk, to wild sheep in particular.  At the time there was no comprehensive assessment of camelid diseases and the potential for transmission to wildlife. Therefore we hired an NGO with that expertise to perform a disease risk assessment – see this set of guidelines that describe some of the manner in which these RAs are routinely developed for wildlife health purposes.

 The paper was not published and therefore not submitted for peer review, it was simply a tool to direct decision making in BC.  The final recommendations guided our management of llama backcountry use in parks and protected areas and simply provided direction such as describing the degree of risk and some methods to avoid them, ie permits requiring health inspections and preventative measures such as worming and vaccination. With time and due to further concerns as well as an outbreak of contagious ecthyma in mtn goats in a remote area where reportedly llamas had been used (anecdotal of course with no names or records), the risk assessment was repeated in 2017, again as a contract to reassess the risk and to re-examine the literature.  It also was not published but was provided as an RA.

Both documents have repeatedly been reported inaccurately, a disease risk assessment simply describes risk, its up to the entity that is making a decision on that risk how they use it.  In our case in BC, the RA was part of the reason that the use of camelids is not allowed for the purposes of hunting in part of northern BC.

I hope that this helps.



 Helen Schwantje DVM, MSc

Wildlife Veterinarian/ Wildlife and Habitat Branch British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural

Resource Operations and Rural Development

2080 Labieux Road

Nanaimo, BC

V9T 6J9

 BC wildlife health website<>

Sent: April 22, 2020 2:19 PM

To: Schwantje, Helen FLNR:EX <<>>

Subject: Camelid Risk Assessment Question

 Hi Dr. Schwantje,

 I am a llama owner in Alaska and have a question. Regarding the publication (that was apparently submitted to the organization that you work for) entitled "Risk Assessment on the use of South American Camelids for Back Country Trekking in British Columbia" (Final Report October 24, 2017), was it peer reviewed and if so what were the standards?

 Thank you,



So what is the significance of this email? 

In the above email dated April 22, 2020, Schwantje points out various issues with how her papers are being used by public agencies. She states (in her email) that the “paper” was not published, nor peer reviewed; is simply a tool for decision making in BC, Canada; and that “both documents have repeatedly been reported inaccurately.” And interesting enough, this email reveals (in her own words) that evidence being used that lamas were in the area where an outbreak of CE occurred among wild mountain goats in Canada is merely “anecdotal of course with no names or records.” This email further demonstrates that the basis of the llama disease threat purported in these Canadian papers is merely conjecture (not science) and that these documents should not be used by government agencies as a basis to ban llamas from U.S. public lands.

Co-author Schwantje also refers to a follow-up Canadian hypothetical risk assessment that was completed in 2017 (CCH 17) which was partially funded by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). ADF&G concluded that CCH17 did not present any new information or substantiate a camelid disease threat to wild sheep or goats. ADF&G stated in a letter of public record dated June 11, 2018 to the Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association (GALA) that the Department’s position is as follows: “at this time we have no intention to promote or support limiting the use of South American camelids on public land in the State of Alaska.” ADF&G does not prohibit the use of pack llamas (camelids) for hunting in wild sheep or goat habitat.

The American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners (AASRP), issued the following policy statement in February 2020. There exists concern that the entry of camelid pack animals (llamas, alpacas) onto public lands poses a potential risk of disease to resident endangered or threatened ungulate populations including Boreal Caribou, Northern Mountain Caribou, Central Mountain Caribou, Southern Mountain Caribou, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goat, Dall’s Sheep, Stone’s Sheep and Roosevelt Elk. The diseases of concern by National Parks and wildlife managers include: Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, Mannheimia haemolytica, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, Mycobacterium bovis, Pasteurella spp., contagious ecthyma, bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV), and bluetongue virus. Transmission of pathogens from cattle and sheep to wild ungulates under natural conditions has been well documented in the literature. Examples include respiratory disease and fatal pneumonia following contact between domestic and bighorn sheep (Schommer & Woolever, 2008), M. bovis from cattle to elk in Riding Mountain National Park (Garde et al., 2009), and BVDV from cattle to deer (Passler & Walz, 2010). However, there have been no peer-reviewed publications documenting pathogen transmission from camelids to wild ungulates or to domestic sheep and goats for the pathogens of concern. The American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners is opposed to banning camelid pack animals on public lands until there is scientific justification for this action. Revised February 2020. 


The Canadian hypothetical risk assessments are at this link