Saskatchewan

Researchers documenting bat species in Prince Albert National Park under shadow of looming threat

Not much is known about the bat population in northern Saskatchewan, according to one researcher. Wildlife biologist Cory Olson is out to change that. 

2 species that live in Prince Albert National Park are listed as endangered

The little brown bat is one of the species known to carry rabies. A 21-year-old Parksville, B.C., man died on Saturday from rabies after coming into contact with an infected bat on Vancouver Island this spring. (Submitted by Cory Olson)

Not much is known about the bat population in northern Saskatchewan, according to one researcher. Wildlife biologist Cory Olson is out to change that. 

Olson and a small team have set up in Prince Albert National Park to try and get a baseline survey of what kinds of bats live there, where they're living and how to better protect them. 

"Their management is important for park operations," he said.

"If a bat is using a building, then special management can be applied to ensure that they're not being disturbed during the summer when they're roosting there."

Kicking roosting bats out of their homes prematurely can seriously damage a colony, Olson said. Two species that live in the park are listed as endangered, he added.

White nose syndrome is fatal to most of the bats exposed to it. It rouses them in winter when they're hibernating and then they deplete their energy stores and starve to death. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

One factor contributing to the decline of bats is a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. The disease grows like a mould on their skin. It rouses them in winter when they're hibernating and then they deplete their energy stores and starve to death. 

According to a Prince Albert National Park worker, the disease is not in Saskatchewan yet but it is spreading. 

"It's prevalent in eastern Canada and it's decimating colonies," Fiona Moreland with the park, said in an interview with CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Monday. 

"We ... think that's it's moving west so we imagine it will be here in the West before too many years."

Bats are essential to the ecosystem in the park. They are predators to insects that are active at night, including mosquitoes. 

"If we were to lose our bats, it's quite possible that a number of forest pests would increase in numbers and cause damage to forests," Olson said. 

"We want people to know how beneficial they are. Just eating their weight in insects in a night is great in my books," Moreland said. 

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

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