Death toll rises
Anthrax kills more bison in national park

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 07/00) - The bison death toll is growing as a second anthrax outbreak has been reported.

Officials say 18 more bison in the Sweetgrass area of Wood Buffalo National Park have died. This new outbreak is about 80 kilometres from an initial outbreak reported in mid July.

The first 45 carcasses were found in an isolated area 15 kilometres east of Garden River. Two bears are also confirmed to have died from the bacteria, the only two instances ever recorded. People are not allowed into that area because of the outbreak.

Access to the site of the second outbreak has also been closed. A backcountry campsite is located in the Sweetgrass area, and is usually visited by about two groups per month, said park official Jonah Mitchell.

"We don't have the results (from the second set) but it looks (like) anthrax as well and we're treating it as if it is," he said, adding the area has been closed off to campers.

Mitchell said they won't know until the end of the year how the outbreaks have affected tourism, but already people have called and inquired before travelling to the area.

"Unfortunately we won't know until the end of the year how many people didn't call and just cancelled," he said.

The outbreak areas are 200 and 110 square kilometres and "that's out of a park the size of Switzerland," Mitchell added.

Although anthrax in humans can be treated with antibiotics, if not caught early it can kill within two to three days.

But, "you'd have to almost roll around in the carcass of a bison to get it," Mitchell said.

"I don't know of any member of the general public who has just come across it."

People recorded to have contracted it were usually veterinarians, cattle ranchers or biologists. There have been 18 recorded cases of anthrax infecting people.

The largest anthrax outbreak in the park was in the early 1960s when nearly 900 bison died. The most recent outbreak, in 1998, killed 32.

Parks Canada authorities are watching with interest but leaving the situation in the hands of Wood Buffalo park officials.

Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development bison specialists are also monitoring bison in the Mackenzie and Hook Lake areas, but so far no signs of anthrax affecting bison outside the park have been reported.