Suspected anthrax outbreak strikes Wood Buffalo National Park

·2 min read
Bison laying in wallows as seen from a surveillance flight. Bison contract anthrax from dust spores inhaled while taking dust baths. (Submitted by A Erasmus, Parks Canada. - image credit)
Bison laying in wallows as seen from a surveillance flight. Bison contract anthrax from dust spores inhaled while taking dust baths. (Submitted by A Erasmus, Parks Canada. - image credit)

A potential anthrax outbreak is being investigated in a remote area of Wood Buffalo National Park. For now, Parks Canada has closed the Sweetgrass and Trident Creek/Trident Meadows areas, and an area west of Peace Point, as well as the old Garden River road.

Park officials were alerted to the outbreak after receiving mortality signals from several bison collars, which showed no activity for up to 48 hours.

Resource conservation staff conducted a surveillance flight and found seven dead animals. That number has since risen to 47.

Two field tests were done for anthrax and both showed positive results. A lab is currently confirming the samples in Saskatoon. Parks Canada is still waiting for those results.

Although anthrax has not yet been confirmed, park officials say all the signs are there.

Wood Buffalo Acting Superintendent, Jean Morin said that based on the field test and similar situations in the past they can assume the animals died from anthrax.

N.W.T. saw pretty significant anthrax outbreaks in both 2012 and 2015.

No threat to the public

Jean said along with keeping updated records of all the observations, they are also working closely with Indigenous groups in the area.

"If they see anything that maybe we didn't see while we were doing our flights," said Jean. "Working together is going to help us [while we] wait for that cooler temperature."

Bison will usually contract the disease from contaminated soil while wallowing in dust baths. Spores develop in hotter temperatures and fluctuating water levels. Cooler temperatures will kill the spores and slow the outbreak.

Although extremely rare, humans can get anthrax from contact with infected bison. In a July 19 press release, officials asked anyone who sees a dead bison alone or in groups to record their exact location and send it to the Wood Buffalo duty officer.

Because the outbreak is in a remote area, Jean said there is no threat to the public. They have closed off roads accessing the area but all tourist areas in Wood Buffalo remain open.

Parks Canada says anyone who attempts to enter the closed area can be charged under the National Parks Act.

On Monday park staff conducted another surveillance flight and found no new animals deceased.

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