For Immediate Release, February 9, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Killer Bat Disease Reaches North Carolina as Swath of Epidemic Widens Rapidly
RICHMOND, Vt.— Just a week after a fast-moving bat-killing disease was discovered for the first time in Indiana, the disease has now been confirmed for the first time in North Carolina. The deadly bat illness known as white-nose syndrome, or the pathogenic fungus associated with it, has now been found on bats in 16 states and two Canadian provinces, from New Hampshire to Oklahoma. Two years ago, biologists estimated that more than 1 million bats had been killed by the disease. Mortalities have continued to mount since then.
“Winter is when this disease hits bats the hardest, and this winter is shaping up as the most destructive and heartbreaking yet,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “If we're going to limit the damage and have any hope of stemming the spread of white-nose from coast to coast, these latest cases must serve as a wake-up call for federal agencies to take action now."
Wildlife officials confirmed on Wednesday that infected bats at two sites in western North Carolina have been found. One of the sites was a non-operational mine and the other a cave that hosts, among other species, the federally endangered Virginia big-eared bat. Two other endangered bat species, the Indiana bat and the gray bat, also reside in North Carolina. The Indiana bat has suffered severe mortality since the initial appearance of white-nose syndrome in 2006 in upstate New York.
The disease leaves a telltale white fungus around the muzzle of the bats that die. In some caves, mortality rates have reached 100 percent. Scientists worry that the disease, left unchecked, could drive some bat species extinct. Biologists also fear a ripple effect from the loss of bats, which eat millions of pounds of night-flying insects each year and help keep in check bugs that are problematic for agriculture and forestry.
Scientists believe that the bat disease is a case of an exotic fungus that was brought to North America, perhaps on a caver’s gear or clothing, from Europe. Since biologists went to the continent to investigate, they have found European bats with the fungus, but those bats do not appear to get sick. Thus far, bats from six different North American species have died, and individuals from three other species have been found with the fungus on them.
In January 2010, the Center petitioned the government to immediately close all caves and abandoned mines on federal land in the lower 48 states in an effort to stem the spread of the disease. Two weeks ago, the Center released a report on the failure of federal land-management agencies to institute widespread emergency cave closures in the western United States. The group has also called for $10 million in federal support for white-nose syndrome research.
"This disease has shown a terrifying ability to move quickly into new territories, but federal agencies have yet to mount a response that matches this unprecedented wildlife epidemic," Matteson said. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to request sufficient federal funding for white-nose research, something they have refused to do thus far. The agency also needs to finish its national white-nose plan, which is a year overdue. And the federal land-managing agencies in the West, where the disease has yet to be reported, need to close caves and mines immediately so that human transmission of the disease doesn’t deepen this tragedy any further.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.