Alberta bat caves stay closed to halt spread of White-nose Syndrome
Ongoing provinicial study of deadly disease aims to protect nocturnal bug-eaters
Alberta's popular Cadomin and Wapiabi caves will remain closed another five years to protect resident bat populations.
The extension was announced this week by the province as it continues to tackle the problem of White-nose Syndrome, a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in the northeastern United States and Canada.
Cadomin and Wapiabi, closed in 2010, are vital hibernation sites for bats.
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The fungus grows in bats, forcing them to wake up too frequently while they hibernate, says research done by Alberta Environment and Parks. As a result, infected bats use up their fat stores too fast and, with no available food supply, eventually starve to death.
"Bats play an important role in maintaining balance in our environment," said Minister Shannon Phillips in a news release.
"While White-nose Syndrome has not yet reached Alberta, data shows the disease is making its way westward across the country," she said. "These closures help protect our sensitive bat population by reducing the risk of exposure to disease."
Research also reveals bat mortality rates at affected sites often rise above 90 per cent; the end result is WNS has wiped out millions of bats since 2006, when it was first discovered in New York State.
WNS, which is not a threat to humans, arrived via caves in Europe.
Experts suspect it was inadvertently transferred by humans, on clothing or equipment.
Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., along with more than half of the American states, are currently battling WNS.
The devastation is wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems across these areas.
Forestry and agricultural industries are taking on costs in the billions of dollars when bats are no longer available to control serious insect pests, research reveals.
Bats consume between half and their entire body weight in insects each night, which amounts to thousands of pests come dinnertime.
So far there is no successful treatment for WNS-infected bats and no way to remove the fungus from caves.
But a great deal of research is in play to halt the spread of WNS.