For Immediate Release, February 28, 2013
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
Devastating Bat-killing Disease Reaches Illinois
SPRINGFIELD, Ill.— Wildlife officials in Illinois announced today that white-nose syndrome, a devastating new disease that has already killed nearly 7 million North American bats, has spread to their state. The bat epidemic, first documented in a cave in upstate New York in 2006, now occurs in 20 states and five Canadian provinces. The ongoing spread of the disease, which hits bats during hibernation, threatens to decimate bat populations throughout the continent.
“Federal biologists have called this the worst wildlife health crisis in history,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now that this wildlife epidemic has reached Illinois, President Obama’s home state, it’s time for the administration to take more aggressive measures to find a solution to this tragedy, before it sweeps the entire country.”
Biologists for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the discovery of white-nose syndrome in Illinois after lab analysis confirmed that little brown bats and northern long-eared bats collected earlier this month from four counties—LaSalle, Monroe, Hardin and Pope--did indeed have the disease.
White-nose syndrome causes catastrophic mortality in several bat species. In the Northeast, where it has been killing bats the longest, scientists have seen declines exceeding 98 percent for little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and tri-colored bats. The Indiana bat is down by 70 percent in northeastern states. Scientists have documented the disease in seven species thus far: the little brown bat, northern long-eared bat, eastern small-footed bat, tri-colored bat, big brown bat, Indiana bat and gray bat. The last two bat species are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect the little brown, eastern small-footed and northern long-eared bats under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 due to the overwhelming threat of white-nose syndrome. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently deciding whether to add them to the endangered list.
In today’s announcement, Illinois biologists emphasized that there is no known cure for the bat disease, and that people have the potential to spread the fungus that causes the disease. Scientists have accumulated compelling evidence that the lethal fungus was likely transported by people from Europe into a commercial cave in New York, where bats were first reported with the tell-tale white fuzz on their muzzles and wings.
The Center has, for years, called for the closure of publicly owned caves to people in all but scientific or emergency circumstances, and for the government to recommend that landowners restrict recreationists’ access to their caves as well.
“If we’re serious about stemming the spread of this disease and preserving bat populations throughout North America, we have to do what’s needed. Right now that means an all-out effort by the government to ensure white-nose syndrome is not made worse by people spreading it to new parts of the country,” Matteson said.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.