Followup: White-nose Syndrome Continues to Kill Bats in National Parks
Less than one month ago, I posted a story about white-nose syndrome killing bats in Mammoth Cave National Park. Today, more bad news came from another national park site, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, where white-nose has just been documented for the first time.
Cumberland Gap superintendent Mark Woods reports that the deadly fungal infection was found in three bats from three separate caves in the park, which has thirty caves altogether. Six species of cave-dwelling bats live in the park; all are susceptible to white-nose.
Cumberland Gap managers, knowing about the approach of this devastating disease, have for three years required cave visitors to undergo decontamination procedures to prevent the human introduction of fungal spores into caves where they might infect hibernating bats.
However, the primary mode of white-nose transmission is between bats—and at this time, we have no way to intervene to prevent bat-to-bat infections. I contacted Katie Gillies, the imperiled species coordinator at Bat Conservation International, to ask what can be done to combat the spread of white-nose.
“There is an extensive amount of research being conducted on several fronts right now,” she told me. “A few years ago, the fungus didn’t even have a name, and today the full genome has been mapped, sensitive molecular tools to detect it have been developed, and we understand the histology of the fungal invasion and believe we understand the proximate and ultimate causes of death.”
Unfortunately, she added, “Although everyone would like to find a silver bullet and identify a cure for WNS, we are nowhere near such a breakthrough right now.” Researchers have found ways to kill the Geomycetes destructans fungus, but not in a way that’s practical outside a laboratory setting.
Still, there’s hope. Funding is tight right now, of course, but private contributions to organizations like Bat Conservation International can help support the research that’s needed to find answers … and save our bats. I’ve donated. I hope you do too.
Addendum: Another useful site to check out is FightWNS.org. Their website says they’re “the only entity dedicated to raising money solely to save bats from white-nose syndrome, the single most devastating disease to ever impact North American wildlife.” (They’ve got great t-shirt designs, too, if the thought of helping bats isn’t enough of a motivator in itself.)