State takes action to protect bats
Tue, Jun 02 2009 at 3:34 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
Nature Conservancy officials today announced that Bat and Rumbling Bald Caves would be closed until further announcement to protect bats from a deadly disease that has ravaged northeastern bat populations.
The action is designed to check the spread of white-nose syndrome, which has already killed a half million bats in the northeast and has spread as far south as Virginia. The sickness is named for the white fungus on the face of infected bats. Infected bats have low body fat and exhibit unusual behavior such as flying during the day and during cold weather, when there are no insects available for food. The bats eventually starve to death. It kills as many as 90 percent of an infected colony.
The two Rutherford County caves are on property owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The interior of the caves are already off limits to most visitors, but today’s action will result in changes to planned hikes at Bat Cave and more enforcement of the ban at Rumbling Bald Cave.
The Conservancy conducts hikes to Bat Cave during summer months and will continue to do so. Hikers will no longer be led inside the cave entrance; however they will be allowed to see the cave entrance from the trail. The Conservancy will also contact caving enthusiasts in the mountains, advising them about the illness and the need to avoid caves like Rumbling Bald. Both caves will also be formally posted with no trespassing signs.
“Bats are vital parts of our ecosystem, often keeping insect pests in check,” said David Ray, the Conservancy’s Mountains Project Director. “We need to stop this disease before it affects bats in the Southeast. We will work with local cavers to explain why it is vital that people avoid these caves for now.”
There are no links of the disease with human illness, but it is suspected that humans may unwittingly transfer the illness by visiting an infected cave and then carrying the disease out on their shoes or other gear.
White-nose syndrome was first identified in February 2006 by a spelunker visiting a cave in upstate New York. He noted white patches on the bats’ muzzles and found several dead bats. The following winter New York Department of Environment Conservation biologists observed bats with white noses behaving oddly. Since that time the disease has progressed southward, most recently identified in bats Virginia’s Jefferson and George Washington national forests. The U.S. Forest Service earlier this week announced a similar ban for publicly-owned caves.
If you'd like to learn more about what the Conservancy is doing to protect bats on Conservancy properties join a guided hike at Bat Cave Preserve on Wednesdays and Saturdays starting June 6 and running through August 12. Advance reservations are required by emailing Mtns_Volunteers@tnc.org or by calling 828-350-1431 option 4.
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