Biologists in Newfoundland and Labrador will be keeping a close eye on bat populations over the winter months, due to a fungal disease that has decimated the winged mammals in eastern North America.
White-nose syndrome was first discovered in a New York cave in 2006.
'They actually held an emergency assessment meeting to look at these three species that are being affected by white-nose syndrome. So they deemed it an emergency.' - James Pagé of the Canadian Wildlife Federation
Since then, the mysterious disease has killed six-million bats.
Corner Brook biologist Allysia Park, who is coordinating a response to the disease for the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, said there's no evidence that the disease has arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The syndrome has nearly wiped out three bat species in the Maritime provinces.
Park speculates the province's relative isolation has kept the disease out — but she's worried about the ecological impact if bats also start dying in this province.
"One little brown bat, which we do have here in Newfoundland and Labrador, can eat up to a kilogram of insects in one summer. So with six million bats dead, that's 6,000 tonnes of insects that are no longer getting eaten," Park told CBC.
She said bats hibernate during the winter, so if they're seen outside in the winter months, there's something wrong.
"We really need people to get out there and to look for bats. So, if people are out on their Ski-doo, or they're snowshoeing and they see a bat flying during the day, that's a really good indication that that bat is sick. We really want people to report any sightings of sick or dead bats to their local wildlife office," she said.
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James Pagé, with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said the federal government has yet to protect bats under the Species at Risk Act.
Scientists agreed two years ago that three bat species are critically endangered.
"They actually held an emergency assessment meeting to look at these three species that are being affected by white-nose syndrome. So they deemed it an emergency," said Pagé.
Pagé said federal legislation would be the first step to saving the bats.
'One little brown bat, which we do have here in Newfoundland and Labrador, can eat up to a kilogram of insects in one summer. So with six million bats dead, that's 6,000 tonnes of insects that are no longer getting eaten.' - Biologist Allysia Park
"An action plan is then also developed by the federal government on specific activities on the ground, that need to take place in order to carry out this recovery strategy. So that's a much-needed piece that we're looking for right now."
Environment Canada officials have said they still need more information about bat populations before they can act.
The disease continues to spread to central Canada.