WNS reaches Canada, Maryland and Tennessee
For three years now, the end of winter has brought tragic reports that White-nose Syndrome has spread into more caves and more states that had previously been untouched by this devastating killer of bats. Sadly, this year is no different. The most recent surveys of bat-hibernation sites confirm that the disease has moved northward into Canada, south into Maryland and has now spread some 400 miles (645 kilometers) westward into and across Tennessee. Bats in 11 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario are now infected, and scientists still are working desperately to find a way to prevent the disease or at least slow its spread.
WNS was discovered in a single New York cave in February 2006. It has raced unimpeded across the Northeast and into the South, turning hibernation caves into mortuaries littered with dead bats. Mortality rates approaching 100 percent are reported at some sites, and well over a million of at least six species have been killed.
In the first report that WNS has reached Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources said the disease was confirmed at hibernacula in three areas: Bancroft-Minden, Kirkland Lake and Flesherton. All three are in southern Ontario, up to about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the U.S./Canadian border.
The ministry said three other sites are being investigated for WNS. The U.S. and Canada have been coordinating WNS efforts, and the ministry is working with the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre in monitoring caves and mines that are used by hibernating bats.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports the state's first case of WNS. The department said the disease was confirmed in dead bats at a cave near Cumberland, in northwestern Maryland.
In Tennessee, WNS was reported at a privately owned cave in the state's northeastern corner in February. A month later, the state Department of Environment and Conservation reported White-nose at Dunbar Cave State Park in north-central Tennessee. The department said the cave was closed throughout the winter to protect hibernating bats and will not be reopened this year.
The expansion of WNS into middle Tennessee puts neighboring Arkansas and Missouri on high alert as they complete and implement response strategies.
WNS has now invaded the ranges of two endangered species, the Indiana (Myotis sodalis) and gray myotis (M. grisescens), as well as the Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus), an endangered subspecies.
In February, the disease was found at a West Virginia cave where more than 6,000 Virginia big-eared bats (perhaps 45 percent of the entire population) hibernate, along with about 4 percent of all known Indiana myotis. Most of the bats using this major hibernaculum, however, are little brown myotis (M. lucifugus). Although biologists reported hundreds of little brown and Indiana myotis had been killed or sickened by WNS, Virginia big-eared bats have so far shown no clinical signs of infection.
Bat scientists and conservationists, meanwhile, nervously await the results of still more late-winter cave surveys, while the all-out search for solutions continues. To stay up to date on WNS developments, visit www.batcon.org/wns.
You can help BCI and its partners in our search for the knowledge and tools to stop the devastation of North American bats by White-nose Syndrome. Support the WNS Emergency Response Fund: www.batcon.org/wnsdonate.
Killing bats leads to jail
Slaughtering bats has never involved much risk for the perpetrators: even the most brutal vandals are rarely identified and serious punishment is almost unheard of. But now a federal judge has raised the stakes.
One Kentucky man is going to jail for eight months and another faces three years of probation after pleading guilty to beating to death 105 endangered Indiana myotis in October 2007 with flashlights, rocks and their feet. Such incidents have, thankfully, declined over the years as education efforts by Bat Conservation International and others have dispelled myths about bats and built an appreciation for their value. Yet, as proven in Kentucky's Laurel Cave, senseless bat massacres have hardly disappeared.
And this came after Indiana myotis already were being battered by White-nose Syndrome.
A big difference this time, compared with similar incidents in the past, is that the Laurel Canyon slaughter has generated a surprising amount of media attention, both locally and around the country. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) immediately raised a loud alarm. A consistent sense of outrage was expressed to reporters by many conservationists, prominently including BCI Cave Resources Coordinator Jim Kennedy.
BCI worked with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to establish a reward fund and provided the initial contribution. The reward quickly grew to $5,000 with support from the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network and Defenders of Wildlife and was widely reported.
BCI has been working at Kentucky's Carter Caves State Resort Park, where Laurel Cave is located, since 1998 to protect and improve conditions in a number of important Indiana myotis hibernacula (see BATS, Winter 2005). The park's Saltpetre Cave was discovered to be a mostly abandoned but once-major hibernation site. Closing the cave to winter tours and restoring historic airflow conditions led thousands of these endangered bats to once again begin hibernating in the cave.
Prominent signs warning the public to keep out of the state park's key caves during the winter hibernation season proved ineffective at Laurel Cave. So Kennedy and BCI Indiana myotis Coordinator Michael Baker joined with the American Cave Conservation Association, FWS, KDFWR and the Kentucky State Parks Department to install bat-friendly gates at Laurel Cave to protect this important site by keeping people out while bats are hibernating.
FWS said its agents, acting on an anonymous tip, arrested Kentuckians Lonnie W. Skaggs and Kaleb D. Carpenter. Both men admitted entering the cave Oct. 26, 2007, and killing 23 of the hibernating bats, the FWS reports, while Skaggs returned several nights later and killed another 82 Indiana myotis.
They pleaded guilty to violating the federal Endangered Species Act. U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Atkins sentenced Skaggs to two eight-month sentences to run concurrently, and placed Carpenter on three years' probation.
"This senseless act of killing dozens of endangered Indiana bats cannot be tolerated," said James Gales, special agent-in-charge for Fish and Wildlife's Southeastern Region.
BCI extends its thanks to our loyal members and donors for allowing us to help protect these bats and work toward a time when such killings finally cease.
A world record
It's official: The bats that roost in Monfort Cave in the Philippines have set a new record as the world's largest colony of Geoffroy's rousette fruit bats (Rousettus amplexicaudatus). That comes straight from Guinness World Records.
BCI has been working with Norma Monfort, who owns the Samal Island cave, since 2006, when she asked BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle to help assess and protect this incredible colony.
The formal Guinness announcement notes, "As per an estimate from Bat Conservation International in 2006, the population in the Monfort cave was approximately 1.8 million."
Monfort proved to be a tireless champion of bats, and her nonprofit Philippine Bat Conservation group, established after BCI's initial visit, works throughout the region in bat education, research training and conservation.
BCI continues to partner with Monfort and the expanding community of individuals and organizations who are building new commitments to bat conservation and research throughout the Philippines.
If there's a bat in my school...
With all the myths and misinformation that complicate human-bat interactions, the occasional appearance of a wandering bat in or near a school can cause panicked reactions that put both people and bats at risk. A Texas teacher asked BCI for help in preparing for such incidents as the spring migration season gets under way. We were delighted to pitch in.
Working with experts, BCI developed a small, simple poster that tells students what they should – and should not – do if they find a bat in or around their school. The key message is to stay calm, contact an adult and "Never touch a bat or any other wild animal."
There's also a short message on the values and facts about bats.
The poster, designed for hallways and bulletin boards, may be downloaded without obligation or charge from the "Educator's Navigation" page of BCI's website, www.batcon.org. It is available in color or black and white and may be printed to letter-size paper with any printer.
Members in Action
Todd Austin: "The Bat Doc"
Twenty years ago, college student Todd Austin came across a copy of America's Neighborhood Bats by BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle. "When I finished that book, I joined Bat Conservation International," he recalls now. "For the next 3½ years, I was pretty much a bat geek, learning all that I could about these fascinating animals." That commitment grew mightily in the years ahead.
In 1994, as a Doctor of Chiropractic living in Quincy, Illinois, he added a new skill to his passion for bats: "I joined Toastmasters, a public-speaking organization, where I was encouraged to give speeches about any interests I had." That, of course, included bats.
He also joined a local caving group, becoming its first chairman of bat conservation. That quickly led to requests for bat presentations to community groups and elementary school kids. He also helped with successful conservation projects at two threatened bat caves.
Then things really took off. Since moving to Virden, Illinois, in 1996, Todd says he's presented 34 bat-education programs to explain the benefits and conservation needs of bats to more than 2,600 people of all ages. His pithy presentations originally featured a BCI slide show of Merlin Tuttle's famous bat photos. That eventually evolved into digital PowerPoint presentations, developed from his collection of about 200 images, many of them taken during his own volunteer work with bats.
These personal outreach efforts are extremely rewarding and a lot of fun, Todd says. "I'd like to invite my fellow BCI members to get out of their comfort zones and start giving bat education and conservation presentations in their communities, too."
When he's speaking to adult audiences, Todd said, he usually brings a bat house or two for show-and-tell, and hands out construction plans for building them and tips for attracting bats. With youngsters, "I usually donate bat books to the school library and try to give each child a bat ring, a bat tattoo and a BCI Important Bat Facts card."
Todd finds "most people very receptive, and many of the children really get excited. Elementary school kids tend to either want to talk about vampire bats or to share what they've learned about how other bats are beneficial."
He says most BCI members would probably enjoy giving occasional presentations (although he adds that his experience with Toastmasters was a key to giving him the confidence for public speaking).
"It's very rewarding to hear from people about how I've changed their minds about bats," Todd said. "If I can touch the lives or inspire a handful of young kids to go into bat-conservation or research-related fields, then I feel like I've made a tremendous impact for bats everywhere."
Interested in giving bat-education presentations? BCI might be able to help with advice and materials. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.