Anthrax Outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park
An anthrax outbreak is being monitored in remote areas of Wood Buffalo National Park. Risk levels to the public are very, very low. Road-accessible visitor facilities and transportation corridors remain safe to visit and travel on.
This webpage has the most up-to-date information on the situation.
What you should know:
- Public safety risk: Low
- Observed carcasses: 59
- Locations of carcasses: Sweetgrass, Trident Creek/Trident Meadows, Peace Point Junction West, Flat Grass and Lake One areas
- Lab-confirmed cases: 3
- Field-tested cases: 3
Parks Canada staff are doing daily surveillance flights to manage the situation. A Parks Canada National Incident Management Team was exported to Fort Smith, NT on July 24 to help with the disposal of carcasses at Sweetgrass Station.
Right now, there is a very low risk to the public.
Last updated: July 28, 2022, 2:00 p.m. MT
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a disease caused by bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Bison, cattle, horses, and other hoofed mammals are especially sensitive to anthrax. In this suspected outbreak, the risk to humans is very, very low.
Why is there anthrax in the park?
The bacteria that causes anthrax occurs naturally in soil. But, its presence varies with soil types and climate conditions. It lies dormant in the ground, especially on low-lying or flood-prone land.
We know the bacteria is in the soil in certain areas of Wood Buffalo National Park because of previous outbreaks.
After wet weather, hot and dry conditions bring bacteria closer to the surface. Wallowing or pawing at the ground stirs it up, and animals like bison breathe it in and get infected.
How do animals like bison get infected with anthrax?
Bison love to wallow in the dirt! It helps them cool off and get rid of bugs.
Dry, hot weather brings dormant anthrax-causing bacteria spores closer to the surface of the soil. When they wallow around, it kicks up dirt and can dig up the spores. Then, they breathe the spores in and get infected.
Why are bison getting anthrax now?
We see outbreaks during the height of summer when conditions are hot and dry. This summer's weather has been the perfect environment for anthrax-causing bacteria to thrive. This is especially so during the past two wet summers.
Cool, rainy weather slows anthrax outbreaks.
Where are the dead bison located?
There are bison carcasses near Sweetgrass, Lake One, Trident Creek/Trident Meadows, Peace Point west junction, and Flat grass areas of the park. These are all remote locations in Wood Buffalo National Park.
Is it safe to visit the park?
It is safe to visit the park. The current outbreak areas are in remote parts of the park. The anthrax risk to visitors is very, very low.
Can I get anthrax?
It is extremely rare for humans to contract anthrax. Yet, it is possible to contract anthrax from direct contact with dead, diseased bison.
Anthrax can cause skin, respiratory or intestinal infection in humans. If you think you could have the infection, acting fast is vital. Though infections are serious and could be fatal, antibiotic treatment controls the disease. If you think you were exposed to anthrax, contact your local health centre immediately.
How is Parks Canada managing the situation?
Mortality alerts came in from collars on a few bison in the park in mid-July. Soon after, on a routine anthrax surveillance flight, Parks Canada staff saw several dead bison. Given the time of year and weather conditions, they suspected anthrax. They conducted field tests on July 15 and sent samples from two of the carcasses to the lab.
When an animal dies from anthrax, staff assess the situation and decide what action to take. The actions we’re currently taking include daily surveillance flights to detect deceased bison. We also called in an Incident Management Team to help with the disposal of some carcasses at Sweetgrass Station.
In remote areas, animals are left to decompose. This is because there is little or no likelihood of people coming into contact with the disease.
Animals found near visitor facilities or high-use areas need to be disposed of for public safety. These measures include things like burning or moving the carcass and treatment of soil. This reduces the presence of anthrax spores in the soil.
There has been an increase in activity around the firebase in Fort Smith; what is going on?
We called in a Parks Canada Incident Management Team to help with the disposal of some of the bison carcasses at Sweetgrass. This team is staging out of the Wood Buffalo National Park firebase, right near the Fort Smith airport. We’re asking Fort Smith residents to please avoid this area.
Additionally, you may notice incident personnel at Moose Island (Carlson’s Landing). This is our staging area for getting materials and personnel to the Sweetgrass area.
Active helicopters are present in both areas. Please avoid these areas to allow for personnel to complete their work safely.
How do we know it's anthrax?
Samples from carcasses in the Sweetgrass area and an area near the Salt Plains came back from the lab on July 27, 2022. The results confirmed the presence of anthrax in these samples.
This confirmation, combined with the time of year and weather conditions, and the observed state of the carcasses, leaves us confident the deaths are due to an anthrax outbreak.
Again though, the risk to the public is very low.
Have anthrax outbreaks happened before?
Yes, anthrax outbreaks have happened in Wood Buffalo National Park before. The most recent outbreak was in 2015. Over five significant outbreaks have occurred since 1967.
What should I do if I see a dead animal?
Do not approach it; record your exact location if you can. Notify the Wood Buffalo National Park Duty Officer at (867) 872-0404 as soon as possible.
How will this outbreak affect bison populations?
We're not sure right now how this anthrax outbreak will affect park bison herds. We're doing everything we can to track and assess the situation.
In past outbreaks, anthrax has had minimal impact on park herds. This is because the park has a large amount of bison in comparison to the amount that gets anthrax in a typical year.
What does collared bison mean?
Parks Canada works to protect and recover Species at Risk found throughout Parks Canada places.
Wood Bison are a Species at Risk and are culturally important to the Cree, Dene, and Métis of the region. The presence of bison on the landscape is crucial to the health of Wood Buffalo National Park.
One of the ways Wood Buffalo National Park researches bison is through a radio/GPS-collaring program.
A bison with a collar or a "collared bison" means the bison is tracked via the GPS collar it's wearing. On a yearly basis, staff work together with Indigenous partners to collar bison.
We can track bison herd movements, herd health, and mortality alerts using the GPS signals from the collars.
When we monitor bison, we also learn more about the health of other species in the same ecosystem. Bison behaviours create conditions and habitats that benefit many different plants and animals.