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Bison deaths still climbing

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007

FORT SMITH - The number of bison killed by an anthrax outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park continues to climb

As of Aug. 2, a total of 45 carcasses had been located.

"It's still going up," said Mike Keizer, the park's communications manager.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Flames rise high into the air from a fire disposing of the carcass of a buffalo recently killed by anthrax in Wood Buffalo National Park. - photo courtesy of Wood Buffalo National Park

However, Keizer noted most of the carcasses are old and very decomposed.

"I think the outbreak started about a week before we found the first carcass," he said.

That first carcass was found July 17 on the rugged Parson's Lake Road, about 50-kilometres south of Fort Smith in the Alberta section of the park.

Keizer noted he is being told by experts on the disease that outbreaks slow down during cooler weather, such as experienced in the area last week.

"I'm hoping to see a slowdown now," he said.

The park is continuing to do monitoring and aerial surveys to find more carcasses.

Aside from Parson's Lake Road, carcasses have been found near the Pine Lake and Kettle Point access roads, all on the Alberta side of the border. Other carcasses have been found in the middle of the bush.

As of late last week, carcasses were still being found in the Parson's Lake Road area. No dead buffalo had been found around Pine Lake since July 28. Parson's Lake Road and the access roads to Pine Lake and Kettle Point remained closed as of late last week. However, all other park facilities remained open.

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

At 45 dead buffalo, the current outbreak is on the lower end of the scale for recent outbreaks in the park.

A 2001 outbreak killed 92 bison and one moose. In 2000, there were 103 bison and two black bears killed. Both those outbreaks were much further to the south in the massive park, which is home to about 5,400 wild bison.

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 occurs naturally, is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

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