The Sturgeon River Plains Bison Herd at Prince Albert National Park is not having the same issues as similar herds on Parks Canada lands.

Recently it was announced there was an anthrax outbreak in Wood Buffalo National Park which has killed a number of bison in that park. The herd at Wood Buffalo National Park, located in northern Alberta and bordering on the Northwest Territories, has the largest free roaming bison herd in the world.

Digit Guedo an ecologist with Parks Canada explained anthrax tends to develop due to specific environmental conditions.

“Anthrax occurs after periods of flooding, followed by periods of drought and heat, so its really dependent on the conditions where you’re going to have an anthrax outbreak,” she said.

The buffalo herd in Prince Albert National Park has been impacted in the past by anthrax outbreaks, the most recent being in 2008 where an outbreak killed an estimated 60 animals.

(Plains Bison calves near Jonasson Flats trailhead, Prince Albert National Park: Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada)

Currently the herd in P.A. National Park is estimated to number around 150, this is a marked improvement from 2016 when the herd was estimated to number around 56. However, this number is no where near where the herd was in 2008 when it was estimated to number over 400.

While anthrax is not currently having a negative impact on the bison in the park Guedo said it does face some challenges. She explained these challenges tend to relate to the herd being a free ranging wild herd which is not confined to the park.

“The things that make it healthy and refine that population through natural selection, such as disease predation, climate factors and hunting are also the things that cause a risk to it,” she said.

One of the main causes of decline for the herd in the past was the large number of animals being taken by hunters outside the park boundaries. Guedo said to help deal with this Parks Canada has built diversionary fences around the Sturgeon River to discourage the animals from leaving the park. The park has also engaged in controlled burns to help create more favorable habitat.

Looking forward Guedo said overall the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Herd is in a good position and has a lot of positive things going in its favour.

“The population is increasing and its showing signs of increasing health, we’re seeing more recruitment, that means more younger individuals surviving and becoming incorporated into the herd and we’re seeing more breeding age females also,” she said.

(Top Photo: The Sturgeon River plains bison herd: Photo Courtesy of Parks Canada)