Parks Canada says 47 bison carcasses have so far been counted as an outbreak of anthrax continues inside Wood Buffalo National Park.
Bison are susceptible to anthrax and past NWT outbreaks have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of animals. Ordinarily, Parks Canada said, the Wood Buffalo herd numbers around 5,000 animals.
Not all carcasses observed may necessarily be part of the outbreak. Parks Canada says two field-tested cases have been identified to date and none have been confirmed in a laboratory.
“We’re certainly keeping an eye on what’s happening,” said Jean Morin, the park’s acting superintendent, on Friday, adding the number of deceased bison did not yet appear to be having a significant impact on the herd as a whole.
“As soon as the weather cools off a little bit, usually the outbreak stops,” he said. “I don’t expect we’ll reach a number that would be significant enough that it would have an impact.”
The outbreak was first reported earlier this week.
Anthrax outbreaks don’t happen every summer but are triggered, Morin said, by conditions similar to those experienced over the past couple of years: fluctuations in the water table followed by heat. The park, he said, has an outbreak of note every five to 10 years.
In 2012, an anthrax outbreak among bison in the Northwest Territories killed more than 300 animals. Morin said Parks Canada was “in contact” with NWT authorities but the risk of the current outbreak spreading from herd to herd is considered low.
At the moment, carcasses are turning up in the southern reaches of the park. Several areas near the Peace River – the Sweetgrass Station, the Trident Creek and Meadows area, and the Peace Point junction with the old Garden River Road – have been closed.
The remainder of the park is open and Parks Canada says the risk to humans is minimal.
“We have a team to deal with carcasses,” said Morin.
“It’s important to tell all the land users that are out and about, whether it’s in the park or outside, to keep an eye and report any animals they come across that are deceased. Then we can better assess them and keep an eye on the larger picture.”