February 2008 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories
February 11, 2008
Robert Currie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 224
The endangered Indiana bat saw a 9.4% population increase between 2005 and 2007, continuing a twelve-year rise in bat numbers, though a mysterious illness in the Northeast poses a threat to this success.
According figures recently released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, in 2007 the number of Indiana bats rose to more than 513,000, up from 469,000 in 2005, the last time a comprehensive population estimate was completed.
“While that seems like a lot of bats, every winter they come together in massive numbers in a few caves and mines to hibernate, making them extremely vulnerable. In the past, human disturbance of major Indiana bat hibernation sites significantly contributed to the bat’s decline and was a main factor leading to its addition to the Federal list of endangered species. Now the bat’s habit of aggregating in large numbers at hibernation sites may make them more vulnerable to the rapid spread of this new disease.” said Robert Currie, a bat biologist in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Asheville Field Office.
Biologists in New York documented the death of thousands of bats, including several hundred Indiana bats, all apparently infected by a fungus which often forms white tufts on the bats’ muzzles, giving the name white nose syndrome, or WNS. In addition to the white muzzle, dead bats appear to have used up their winter fat stores and have congregated much closer to cave entrances than usual. Researchers are trying to determine if the fungus itself is responsible for the deaths or if its presence is symptomatic of another problem.
Although they occur in greatest numbers in the Midwest, Indiana bats have been known to hibernate in Western North Carolina, and more commonly, migrate to the region in the warmer months. Thus far, white nose syndrome has only been documented in New York and Vermont and until they have a better understanding of the nature of the disease and how it’s transmitted, biologists urge cavers to help prevent its potential spread. To that end, the Service provides these recommendations:
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