| April 8
April 8 A fungus tied to a disease devastating
hibernating bats in the United States has been found in an
Alabama cave system critical to the survival of endangered gray
bats, government scientists said on Monday.
Detection of the fungus that causes the bat disease,
white-nose syndrome, in the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge
in Alabama "could be pretty catastrophic" for the up to 1.6
million protected gray bats that hibernate there, said Paul
McKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species
White-nose syndrome, named for the fungal residue on the
muzzles of infected bats, has decimated bat populations since it
was discovered in New York in 2006. It has spread to 22 states
and five Canadian provinces east of the Rocky Mountains, killing
more than 6 million bats.
U.S. wildlife officials have said that experts suspect the
fungus may have been brought to the United States from Europe by
a person inadvertently carrying its spores on shoes, clothing or
other gear. Evidence of a similar fungus has been discovered in
The endangered gray bats are among seven species affected by
a syndrome that targets those that hibernate in caves and
Federal scientists said the disease has not yet been found
to cause mass die-offs in gray bats. Yet the finding of infected
gray bats at Fern Cave, the single most significant hibernating
area in the world for the species, is "extremely alarming,"
Bats with white-nose syndrome fly outside during winter
months when they should be hibernating and when there are no
insects for food. They eventually starve to death.
The disease has caused populations of bats, estimated to
save agricultural industries billions of dollars a year in
pest-control costs, to decline by more than 80 percent in the
U.S. northeast, a U.S. Geological Survey study shows.
The disease is mostly transmitted from bat to bat. Fungal
spores behind the disease can also be transported long distances
on the clothing and equipment of people who visit caves.
Efforts by federal land managers to prevent the westward
spread of the disease by closing caves and unoccupied mines in
Rocky Mountain states like Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
have been opposed by many caving enthusiasts.
Cavers say it is senseless to close caves that have no
"We are absolutely opposed to the blanket closure of caves.
It's ridiculous," Montana caver Mike McEachern told Reuters last
The U.S. Forest Service last month reversed a largely
blanket closure of caves and vacant mines in Colorado, Wyoming
and elsewhere. Under a plan to go into effect in summer, caves
and mines will be open with some restrictions to protect bats
from infection. Sites with hibernation colonies will be
seasonally closed and annually decontaminated.
Conservationists said the government has caved to
recreationists at bats' expense.
"White-nose syndrome has arrived in the very core of gray
bat habitat and it's like a bomb waiting to go off. Despite this
bad news, federal agencies in the West are backtracking on
precautionary cave measures," said Mollie Matteson, conservation
advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)