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Anthrax outbreak may be nearing end

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007

FORT SMITH - An anthrax outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park may be showing signs of slowing.

As of Aug. 9, the carcasses of 61 buffalo killed by the disease had been located.

On the positive side, no new carcasses had been found since Aug. 4. That was on the Kettle Point access road at the southern end of Pine Lake.

"Hopefully, this may have been the last one," said Mike Keizer, communications manager for the park.

However, Keizer said the most recent carcass showed signs of having been a relatively recent death, since it was not bloated or scavenged

No one can say for sure the outbreak is over, he cautioned.

"It's still too early to call," he said.

The park is still conducting ground and aerial sweeps to locate more carcasses in the Pine Lake and Parson's Lake Road areas. The outbreak has been confined to that general area more than 50 kilometres south of Fort Smith in the Alberta section of the park.

Keizer said the monitoring will continue for at least a couple of weeks.

The beach and campground at Pine Lake was reopened to the public on Aug. 3.

The Kettle Point access road and Parson's Lake Road remained closed as of late last week.

The heaviest concentration of dead buffalo was found along or near the rugged Parson's Lake Road, including the first carcass on July 17.

Only seven carcasses were found in the Pine Lake area.

The park is home to about 5,400 wild bison.

Carcasses near visitor areas are burned, while those in the bush are allowed to decompose naturally.

If a park visitor comes across a dead buffalo, it should not be approached or touched. The person should leave the immediate area and contact park officials.

Anthrax, which is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, occurs naturally in the park.

Under certain conditions, spores concentrate in low-lying areas and bison contract the disease by inhaling contaminated soil while wallowing in the dust.