Nfld. & Labrador

Disease wiping out bats in Atlantic Canada hasn't hit Newfoundland, says wildlife expert

A wildlife expert in eastern Newfoundland says people in this province can help prevent the spread of a disease that is wiping out bats in other parts of the country.

Scientists fear white nose syndrome may eventually kill N.L. bats too

Little Brown Bats are one of two species of bats found in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Philippe Grenier/Radio-Canada)

A wildlife expert in eastern Newfoundland fears it may just be a matter of time before a disease that is wiping out bats in other parts of the country reaches this province.

White nose syndrome is killing bats in every other Atlantic province but it has yet to be detected on the island of Newfoundland.

"In Newfoundland it's not here yet and we don't know if it will arrive or when it will arrive. We are continuing to monitor bats for the disease and so far it has not been detected here," said Bruce Rodrigues, ecosystem management ecologist, Wildlife Division.
Bruce Rodrigues is an ecosystem management ecologist With Newfoundland and Labrador's Wildlife Division. (Philippe Grenier/ Radio-Canada)

The disease is believed to have destroyed more than 80 per cent of some bat populations on the mainland.

"What happens is a white fungal growth is detected on nose and wings of the bats.In the first year after it is found, about 40 per cent of bats die by the second year 80 to 100 per cent of the bats in the area die," said Rodrigues.

He says bats play an important part in the food web, and are important to humans too.

"For us, bats play a huge role in the environment. They are insect eaters and their role in controlling insect populations is important for agriculture and forestry," said Rodrigues, who was leading a workshop at Salmonier Nature Park over the weekend on how to build bat shelters.

He said a recent U.S. study estimated white-nose syndrome will force industry in the states to spend  billions on pesticides to make up for what the bats were eating each year. Rodrigues says bats also play a role in controlling insect-borne diseases, such as Zika virus or malaria.
White nose syndrome is fatal to most of the bats exposed to it. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

Rodrigues said it may be a matter of time before bats here become infected with white nose syndrome.

"It doesn't seem to be limited by latitude or even separation by water. There might be some protection to Newfoundland because of the water divide but it seems inevitable that this disease will show up here at some point," he said.

But Rodrigues says people can play a role in preventing the spread of the bat-killing disease.

"Preventing bat travel is impossible but what we can try to mitigate is human spread of the disease if people are going into caves or areas affected with white-nose syndrome you can pick up the spores on your clothes or your boots and if you come to this province it could end up being spread here,"

With files from Philippe Grenier