Updated Feb 24, 2020
The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the greatest places on Earth, complete with breathtaking views, beautiful hiking trails, and friendly staff to help you see everything that makes the park so special. The area is also home to a staggering variety of wildlife, and while many people may be tempted to approach or interact with wild animals at the canyon, there are a host of reasons to keep your distance. Animals are unpredictable, and many of them carry parasites and disease, and in some areas of the South Rim, they may carry the Black Plague.
Yes, the very same disease that killed half of Europe during the mid-1300s is still present, but don’t worry. Doctors are now more than equipped to deal with the plague, and it is extremely uncommon, even in areas where it can survive. Only 64 human cases have been reported since 1950, and only 10 of those were fatalities.
To further reassure you, scientists and health officials at the canyon have been working to track and eradicate the disease. In 2014 alone, health officials captured 33 rodents and harvested 267 fleas from them to be tested for the plague, and not a single flea was infected. The last plague fatality to take place took the life of wildlife biologist Eric York after he neglected to wear protective equipment during the necropsy of a mountain lion that had died of plague. Fleas are tested because they care the primary carriers of the disease, and the park’s clean bill of health is a good sign, but that doesn’t mean the disease is gone from the park.
The Grand Canyon South Rim began their campaign against the disease following the 2007 death of a National Park Service biologist, and there are currently signs at two of the park’s most popular trails, the Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail, warning visitors not to feed the squirrels. Did you know? Guests seeking treatment for squirrel bites is the number one reason park visitors end up at the Grand Canyon’s health clinic. As always, the Grand Canyon National Park warns visitors to maintain a safe distance from all wildlife to prevent any possibility of contracting the rare but potentially fatal disease.
So why is the plague still endemic in parts of Arizona? Officials believe that the plague has actually adapted to areas of Arizona higher than 4,500 feet in elevation. Flagstaff’s temperate conditions are much more hospitable to fleas that may carry the disease than places like the canyon floor.
Here are some common symptoms of the Black Plague to keep an eye out for.
– High fever
– Swollen lymph glands
– General weakness
Symptoms typically appear within a week of contact with the infected flea or animal. If you know someone who is exhibiting these symptoms, get them to a doctor – it’s likely that they don’t have the plague, but those symptoms are always a recipe for bad news.
How do you keep bugs off of you at the Grand Canyon? What first-aid equipment do you bring? Let us know in the comments section below!