For Immediate Release, April 13, 2011
Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Fast-spreading, Bat-killing Disease Arrives in Kentucky
FRANKFORT, Ky.— The fast-moving disease that has killed more than 1 million bats in North America has arrived in a new state. Wildlife officials in Kentucky said today they detected white-nose syndrome in a bat living in the southwest part of the state. The disease, or the pathogenic fungus associated with it, has now been confirmed in 18 states and three Canadian provinces. The outbreak is considered one of the worst wildlife crises in U.S. history.
“It’s disturbing to see how fast this disease is moving across the country and how slow the government has been to respond,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has called for increased funding for research and widespread cave closures to stem spread of the disease. “If we don’t slow its spread, this disease has the potential to kill millions of bats across the United States and drive some bat species extinct.”
The disease leaves a telltale white fungus around the muzzle of the bats that die. In some caves, mortality rates have reached 100 percent. 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. A study released last month found that the value of bats’ pest-control services in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion.
The disease was first documented in update New York in 2006 and has spread quickly. Last month, wildlife officials said it had reached Ohio and New Brunswick, where more than 1,200 dead bats were found in an abandoned mine.
“This deadly disease shows no signs of slowing. We’ve got to take significant action now if we’re going to limit the damage, especially as it starts moving west,” Greenwald said.
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. Earlier this year, 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.
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.
Six species have been affected by white-nose syndrome so far: the little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, tricolored bat, eastern small-footed bat and federally endangered Indiana bat. Three other species, the federally endangered gray bat, cave myotis and southeastern myotis, have been documented with the fungus on them.
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.