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The number of bison killed by an anthrax outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park now stands at 55. - photo courtesy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Death toll at 55 in national park anthrax outbreak
Next aerial patrol set for Aug. 5 over Wood Buffalo

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, August 3, 2015

The number of bison reported killed by an anthrax outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park now stands at 55.

When contacted on July 30, Tim Gauthier, a park spokesperson, said the last discovery of a bison carcass was at Gull River in the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

That deceased animal was spotted on July 27, he said. "But it had died prior to that."

Gauthier said the anthrax outbreak seems to be slowing down, noting the park is not finding large groups of bison carcasses.

"The turn in the weather may have helped us out in terms of the outbreak winding down, but we still need to patrol to make certain that that's the case, and our next patrol is planned for Aug. 5," he said, noting the aerial survey will cover the whole park.

Anthrax sometimes arises in hot, dry periods following very wet weather.

All anthrax protocols remain in place for the park, including stepped up aerial and road patrols, and the burning of bison carcasses, if necessary.

Carcasses in remote areas are left to decompose naturally.

Only a bison carcass found on Parson's Lake Road has been burned.

"All the bison found so far have been in the backcountry, except for the one at Parson's Lake Road," said Gauthier. "That's not really front country, but we burned that one anyway just to be careful."

All the bison carcasses have been found in the Alberta section of the park.

The first dead bison were spotted on July 9 and laboratory testing later confirmed the presence of anthrax.

The disease is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, and occurs naturally in the park.

Spores concentrate in low-lying areas and bison inhale contaminated soil when wallowing in the dust to get rid of bugs.

Wood Buffalo, which is home to about 5,000 bison, continues to operate normally.

Thirteen anthrax outbreaks have been recorded in the park and the NWT between 1962 and 2012.

There has never been a case of visitors contracting anthrax in Wood Buffalo.

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