White-nose syndrome may harm B.C. bats, warns Kootenay bat project

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A little brown bat displaying signs of white-nose syndrome in 2009 in Vermont.

On March 31, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that white-nose syndrome had been detected on a dead bat near Seattle, Wash. This is very worrisome for the health of bat populations in British Columbia. The BC Community Bat Program, in collaboration with B.C. government and Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, is developing a rapid response to this emerging crisis.

“We knew this deadly fungus that kills bats was moving westward across North America, but we thought we had many years to prepare,” said Juliet Craig, co-ordinator of the Kootenay Community Bat Project (KCBP) and BC Community Bat Program.

Currently there are no known treatments for white-nose syndrome that can be used to save bats in the wild. However, mitigating other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations the resilience to rebound from the mortality that may be caused by the disease. This is where the KCBP and the general public can help.

“Although white-nose syndrome affects bats in caves, it will be during springtime when bats return to building roosts that we have our best chance at detecting the presence of the disease, making the work of our community bat program more important than ever before,” said Craig.

Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and the Habitat Stewardship Program, the KCBP conducts public outreach activities, responds to public reports of roosting bats in buildings, promotes the installation of bat houses, and co-ordinates a citizen-science bat monitoring program.

“We are asking the public to report dead bats to the toll-free phone number or email below and to also provide information on bat roosts,” said Craig. “Bat carcasses will be submitted for testing of white-nose syndrome and may provide the earliest indication of the presence of the disease in B.C.”

If you find a dead bat, be sure not to touch it with your bare hands. Collect it in a bag and label the bag with the date, location and your name, and then put the bag in the freezer. Contact the KCBP as soon as possible for shipping directions and further information.

The KCBP also encourages residents to report bat roosting sites in building structures, such as attics, sheds and bat houses, to help identify where certain species are present. If you need to evict bats from a structure, contact the KCBP, which can provide information on proper procedures to follow.

For more information, contact the Kootenay Community Bat Project at juliet@kootenaybats.com or 1-855-922-2287 ext. 14.