Fake bat cave to battle devastating disease

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – A deadly fungus is wiping out millions of bats, and there’s no cure.

The fungus, called white nose syndrome, has killed at least 5.5 million bats in cave hibernation in the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s bad. It’s been in North American since, we think, 2006,” says Cory Holliday, cave and karst program director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee.

The disease was first identified in 2007.

Holliday says white nose syndrome first started in upstate New York and radiated out to multiple states and Canada.

“White nose syndrome is shaping up to be the worst wildlife disaster of our lifetime,” says Holliday.

Why should anyone care about bats?

Bats are important because they help control the mosquito population.

“They’re the No. 1 predator of night flying insects,” says Holliday.

The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee has built a new artificial bat cave to simulate a normal habitat for hibernating bats. Bats live long lives and reproduce slowly.

Once the bats leave, the man-made cave can be cleaned and ready for when they return. The hope is that the cleaning will prevent the fungus from reaching deadly levels. It could take up to three years to know if the cave works, but if it does, this prototype will be replicated for other regions, Holliday says.

“As far as recovering bats in areas like New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, places that have already suffered devastating blows from WNS, it will probably be hundreds of years before those bats could even recover, if we could stop WNS right now,” says Holliday.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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