The Alberta government has temporarily closed the Cadomin Cave in the Whitehorse Wildland provincial park to control the spread of a mysterious fungus that's killing bats.
Since 2006, a disease known as white-nose syndrome has killed more than a million bats in the northeastern United States. The syndrome was recently detected in bat colonies in Ontario and Quebec.
Scientists aren't clear on what causes the disease, which gets its name from the smudges of white fungus that appear around the nose, mouth and wings of the affected animal.
Some researchers think the fungus acts as an irritant, causing the bat to awaken from its hibernation period early and often, which leads the bats to burn through their energy reserve and starve to death.
The disease doesn't appear to threaten humans, but it's believed that human activities like cave exploration or spelunking help to spread white-nose syndrome.
The Cadomin Cave, near Hinton, is the province's largest hibernation site for bats. With up to 800 bats in the cave, it's considered at the highest risk for exposure to the disease in Alberta.
The general public will be prohibited from entering the cave for the remainder of the year, but researchers conducting bat population monitoring activities will be allowed in, officials said.
Minister of Sustainable Resource Development Mel Knight said anyone visiting other caves or mines where bats gather "should be aware of the basic precautions to avoid spreading this disease to new sites, and especially avoid bringing it to Alberta."
The province's parks officials suggest for cave explorers or researchers to decontaminate their gear and clothing after visiting bat caves, and to not use equipment or footwear used in any site affected with white-nose syndrome in other caves.
White-nose syndrome was first documented in Albany, N.Y., in the winter of 2006.
Since then, the syndrome has spread across nine states in the northeastern U.S. and has wiped out anywhere from 75 to 98 per cent of the over wintering bat population.