Anthrax has been confirmed in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Effective July 7, 2023 at 12 p.m. MT: Anthrax has been confirmed along a 10-kilometre stretch of NWT Highway 5 in 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: Very Low
  • Observed carcasses: 9
  • Locations of carcasses: In the woods along a 10-kilometre stretch of Highway 5
  • Confirmed cases: 2
  • Field-tested cases: 2

Parks Canada staff are doing daily surveillance flights and ground checks to manage the situation. The risk to the public is very low.

Last updated: July 8, 2023, 11:00 a.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 inside and outside 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?

You may have seen bison rolling on their backs and sides in sandy depressions often seen along roadsides. This is called wallowing and they do it cool off and get rid of bugs, but this behaviour also makes them uniquely vulnerable to anthrax.

Dry, hot weather brings dormant anthrax-causing bacteria spores closer to the surface of the soil. When the bison 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 in the woods along a 10-kilometre stretch of Highway 5. While the risk to the public is very low, Parks Canada has put in place traffic control measures and area closures to minimize any possible risk.

Is it safe to travel on Highway 5 and visit the park?

It is safe to travel along Highway 5 and to visit the park. The risk of a person contracting anthrax is very, very low, but Wood Buffalo National Park has taken steps to minimize risk even further with the traffic control area and area closures.

Can I get anthrax?

It is extremely rare for humans to contract anthrax, but it is possible to contract it 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?

Wood Buffalo National Park has taken steps to safeguard the public by putting in place a traffic control area where stopping is prohibited and closing public access areas within the affected area. The traffic control area begins south of the Angus Day Use Area and ends at the Mile 99 Fire Base.

An anthrax outbreak has been confirmed through laboratory analysis, and as a result, Park staff will burn or relocate the carcasses and treat soil in the area to reduce the amount of spores as per Parks Canada anthrax protocols.

When will we know it's confirmed anthrax?

Two anthrax field tests were conducted yielding a positive and negative result. To confirm the presence of anthrax, samples were sent to a lab for confirmation, and on July 10 we received confirmation of anthrax. Parks staff have increased their aerial and ground-based patrols and efforts will focus on public-use areas, roads, and historical outbreak areas.

Have anthrax outbreaks happened before?

Yes, anthrax outbreaks have happened in Wood Buffalo National Park before as the spores occur naturally in the soil in some parts of this region. The most recent outbreak was in 2022.

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?

It should be noted that anthrax outbreaks occur naturally in this region when conditions are right, and that the bison inside and outside the park have coexisted with this disease for a long time.

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.

Area Closures

Nyarling Pull Off at Kilometre 121 of Highway 5.

Traffic Control Area

NWT Highway 5 south of Angus Day Use Area to Mile 99 Fire Base. Angus Day Use Area remains open to the public.

Information

Tim Gauthier
External Relations Manager
Southwest NWT Field Unit, Parks Canada
tim.gauthier@pc.gc.ca
867-872-0180

Media:

Sierra Stinson
Communications Officer
Southwest NWT Field Unit, Parks Canada
sierra.stinson@pc.gc.ca
867-872-0170

Parks Canada general media line:

pc.media@pc.gc.ca

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