For Immediate Release, March 11, 2013
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
Devastating Bat-killing Disease Hits South Carolina
PICKENS, S.C.— The bat-killing disease that has swept across North America since 2006 has now reached 21 states. Wildlife officials with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources announced today that white-nose syndrome has been discovered at Table Rock State Park, in the northwest corner of the state. The disease, first documented in bats in a cave in upstate New York seven years ago, has spread throughout the Northeast and into the South and Midwest, pushing as far west as Missouri. Five eastern Canadian provinces also have been affected by the fungal contagion, which biologists estimate has killed nearly 7 million bats. The disease hits bats during hibernation, threatening to destroy populations throughout the continent.
“By now, anyone who still thinks white-nose syndrome is going to slow down as it spreads across the country needs to drop that delusion,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without dramatic action by federal and state agencies to slow the spread and find a cure, bat populations are going to wink out across the continent. These unique animals, and the irreplaceable insect-control services they freely provide to us, will be lost forever.”
Scientists estimate that the value of bug-eating bats to U.S. farmers ranges from $3 billion to $53 billion per year. Bats eat enormous quantities of moths, beetles, mosquitoes and other insects; their absence could make farmers and others decide to use greater quantities of expensive, and potentially harmful, pesticides.
The dead bat found at Table Rock Park was a tricolored bat. This species, along with several others, has experienced mortality rates exceeding 98 percent in the states most affected by white-nose syndrome. The Center petitioned to protect little brown bats, eastern small-footed bats 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 the species to the endangered list.
Endangered Indiana bats have declined by 70 percent in northeastern states, and last winter the disease was discovered for the first time in endangered gray bats. As white-nose syndrome continues to spread through the core range of Indiana bats and gray bats in the South and Midwest, biologists fear these species, formerly on their way to recovery, will decline to dangerously low levels.
There is no known cure for the bat disease, which is caused by a fungus likely brought to North America from Europe by cave visitors. Bats are the primary vectors of the fungal pathogen, but people have the potential to spread the fungus from cave to cave on their shoes, clothing or gear.
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.
“As white-nose syndrome continues its relentless march across the country, biologists are calling it the worst wildlife epidemic in our history,” said Matteson. “It’s time we started acting like that’s the case, from coast to coast, before it’s too late to save our bats.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.