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Researchers study bison-to-cattle disease threat

Researchers have launched a survey seeking feedback on the potential threats of diseases in Alberta’s Wood bison population being transmitted to cattle.

Both bovine tuberculosis and bovine brucellosis have been endemic within the bison populations in Wood Buffalo National Park since the 1920s. Anthrax within the population also is a concern for researchers.

Project lead David Hall, professor of animal health economics and policy at the University of Calgary, said the initiative is targeting hunters and the public along with cattle and bison producers in efforts to mitigate risks that bovine diseases will spread.

“Parks Canada has been, for quite some time, concerned about how do we manage the species, how do we manage the diseases in bison?” said Hall.

Bovine TB can have devastating effects on individual ranches and impact the multibillion-dollar beef industry, said Hall, which can result in the shuttering of exports if multiple cases are found across different operations.

While Canada enjoys bovine TB and brucellosis free status currently, cases do arise from time to time and are quickly contained.

“But there is this reservoir in bison in Wood Buffalo National Park and the question is do we eliminate the bison? Do we humanely euthanize them all to contain and get rid of the disease in bison,” asked Hall. “That’s a problem because then you are killing a species that is at risk and we’re trying to bio-conserve the species, we’re trying to preserve the gene pool.”

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