B.C. biologists ask residents to report bat sightings

The B.C. Community Bat Program wants to gather information on the province's bat population, before a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in eastern North America spreads here.

B.C. bat program gathering data to prevent fungal disease killing bats from spreading to B.C.

Brown bat populations in eastern North America have been decimated by a fungal disease, white nose syndrome. (Getty Images/Flickr Flash)

Biologists in B.C. are asking people to report any bats they find during winter in order to gather information about their population — in the event a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in eastern North America spreads to this province.

"We're hoping that all the residents of B.C. who may be the eyes on the ground can report caves or mines if they've seen bats inside, or maybe the bats are hibernating in their attic or their shed or some other structure on their property," said Juliet Craig, a biologist with the B.C. Community Bat Program and coordinator with the Kootenay Community Bat Project.

"It's a wonderful way to engage people to be able to sit outside and count bats with no other knowledge of bats, special skills or techniques."

Gathering population data

Craig said that information can help the organization to establish "baseline data" on the province's bat population, which will be useful if white nose fungus or some other "catastrophic effect" affects bats in B.C.

White-nose syndrome has decimated bat populations wherever it has appeared. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

White nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in eastern North America during the animals' winter hibernation, and is responsible for why the little brown bat (little brown myotis) species was listed as endangered on the Federal Species at Risk Act in 2014.

"In eastern North America they've lost a large number of bats — an estimated six million bats — to white nose syndrome, and in some sites [there's been] 100 per cent mortality," Craig said.

"With no baseline data prior to white nose syndrome, they didn't know what they had started with, so here we're trying to get this baseline data of what the number of bats are doing, so we can start to detect large changes in summer season."

Deadly bat disease expected to arrive in B.C.

White nose syndrome has not been detected in this province or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest yet, but Craig said the fungal disease is slowly moving westward.

"There are predictions that white nose syndrome will arrive in B.C. within the next 10 years, and that will have huge impacts on our already suffering bat species."

Craig said that if people discover bats in caves or mines, they should also report their findings on www.batcaver.org, which is an effort by Alberta and B.C. to identify and study hibernation sites for bats in western Canada.

"We don't know where all our bats in B.C. go. There's no big mother lode cave that's known where we can go in and monitor bats over the winter months and find out how they're doing," she said.

"So this is one way we can start to piece together that information."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Seen a bat this winter? B.C. biologists want to know

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