First Western Bat Found with Deadly White Nose Syndrome

Presence of the disease confirmed in a bat found less than 300km south of Vancouver.

TORONTO (April 5, 2016)— White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) has been confirmed in a little brown bat in Washington State – the first recorded occurrence of this deadly fungal disease in western North America. The presence of this disease was verified by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Centre.

Dr. Cori Lausen, an expert bat biologist and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada’s lead scientist studying bats in western Canada, is extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington State, so close to the B.C. border. “Bats are a crucial part of our ecosystem and economy by providing essential pest control for agriculture and timber sectors, and for the general public. It is important that we continue to focus on slowing the spread of this fungus by reducing the risk of accidentally transporting the disease.”

WNS is a fast-spreading disease that has already decimated bat populations in eastern North America. Since it was discovered ten years ago, the disease has killed millions of bats and is predicted to have far-reaching and long-term consequences on ecosystems and Canada’s economy. WNS, typified by a white fungus growing on the nose of bats, kills the animals while they hibernate and has spread across eastern North America, with up to 99 percent mortality of bats in any given winter roost.

“This discovery is disheartening, and means that we need to quickly secure more resources to ramp up our efforts to fill critical knowledge gaps before the disease spreads widely across the west,” Dr. Lausen explains. “In the immediate timeframe we are focused on getting the information out to as many people as possible and underscoring the importance of decontamination protocols. Since fungal spores that cause WNS have the potential to be spread by cavers and tourists, it is crucial to disinfect all gear before entering a cave or mine.  Spring is a critical time period in which truck drivers and recreationists need to be vigilant about not accidentally transporting bats.”

WCS Canada is encouraging Canadians to help our bat populations in the wake of this new discovery. Here are five easy things you can do to help bats:

1.       Encourage your community to become bat-friendly

Bats are long-lived mammals that generally have only a single offspring per year, so massive population die-backs threaten the species. Maintaining any habitat currently used by bats will be critical, so that bats do not burn precious time and fat in the spring searching for a new place to roost and raise a pup. Consider erecting bat houses, or even better, bat ‘condos’ that are more likely to meet the needs of many reproductive females. For details on what you can do in your community to help bats, visit www.bcbats.ca or www.albertabats.ca.

2.       Decontaminate

WNS is commonly spread through bat-to-bat contact, but cavers and tourists visiting infected regions can also carry the fungus on their clothes and caving gear. If you have been to any caves in Canada, US, Asia or Europe, you may be carrying spores for the disease. Gear can be decontaminated by soaking it in 60°C water for twenty minutes. For more information on decontamination, consult the latest protocols on the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative website (http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/docs/WNS_Decontamination_Protocol-Jun2015.pdf).

3.       Volunteer – and report dead bats

By working with biologists, cavers who are careful to follow these decontamination protocols can serve vital roles for bat conservation in the west. BatCaver is a partnership between cavers and researchers in western Canada that aims to gain more insight into the use of western caves and mines by bats, particularly in the winter time. BatCaver volunteers place remote bat detectors and climate loggers in caves and mines and take fungal samples: www.batcaver.org. And everyone – not just cavers – can help track the spread of WNS by reporting any dead bats found in winter or spring to your local government biologist.

4.       Spread the word

WNS is an issue facing bats across North America. Sign up for our newsletter, like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter to get the most up-to-date information on bat research in western Canada – and then share the news with your friends! Inspire others to care about bats and the work they do to make the world healthier.

WCS Canada has been working in western Canada for over five years, doing research to prepare for the arrival of WNS. In western Canada, where there are at least 16 different bat species, scientists know relatively little about where these animals spend the winter, where WNS will hit, and how bat populations will fare when it does. Dr. Lausen and a dedicated team of scientists and volunteers are gathering crucial baseline information to find the answers to these questions so we can best prepare for the arrival of WNS.

WCS Canada’s bat outreach and conservation projects have been generously supported by the BC Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, BC Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Eden Conservation Trust, Environment Canada, Golder Associates, the R. Howard Webster Foundation, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, the Alberta Conservation Association, and the BC government.