A researcher at Mammoth Cave National Park is fearful that a fungal disease is set to kill large numbers of bats in the region.
White Nose Syndrome was first discovered at the park in south-central Kentucky last year, and has impacted at least six of the eight bat species found inside the cave. Rick Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, says researchers at the park are expecting a spike in White Nose cases.
“Unfortunately we’re expecting potentially our next big milestone this year, when we may start seeing fairly large population drops, or possibly finding bats dying of white nose at the park.”
Watch: WKU Public Radio photojournalist Abbey Oldham recently produced a video exploring the potential impact of White Nose Syndrome on the bat populations at Mammoth Cave, and what the park is doing to combat the fungus:
Toomey says an estimated 6.5 million bats in North America have died due to White Nose Syndrome, although he believes the actual number could be much higher. Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee has recently seen a surge in bat deaths due to White Nose Syndrome—deaths Toomey says haven’t shown up yet in official estimates.
White Nose Syndrome has spread to more areas at Mammoth Cave National Park and may end up costing farmers billions of dollars
After a 10 minute climb up a gentle incline just off the main trail at Mammoth Cave National Park, Rick Toomey stands on a wooden platform overlooking Dixon Cave.
“It’s one of our most important hibernation sites,” said Toomey, the park’s research coordinator.
He says during the winter thousands of bats, including several different species hibernate here. But those numbers might be on the verge of a drastic change.
“This is a site that could be vastly altered in five years. In five years we might go in there and find five or ten bats total,” said Toomey. “It’s a very realistic possibility based on what’s been seen elsewhere. And that would be devastating to our ecosystem up here.”
The problem: White Nose Syndrome. It started in the northeast in 2006. It was first noticed at Mammoth Cave in 2013 and has since spread to the caves that welcomed nearly half-a million visitors last year.
Toomey says the fungus that gives White Nose Syndrome its name is just one of the symptoms of the devastating disease.
A disease responsible for killing millions of bats in North America has spread to caves at two state parks in eastern Kentucky that are homes to federally endangered bats, parks officials said Friday.
White-nose syndrome has been detected in caves at Carter Caves State Resort Park and Kingdom Come State Park, said state parks department spokesman Gil Lawson. Small numbers of bats have died so far from the disease, he said.
It's the latest red flag in the fight to prevent the spread of the disease in Kentucky, home to large numbers of bats that hibernate in a vast network of caves.
The disease has been found in 10 Kentucky counties - Bell, Breckinridge, Carter, Christian, Edmonson, Hart, Letcher, Trigg, Warren and Wayne, Lawson said. White-nose was confirmed earlier this year at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and in one of the caves at Mammoth Cave National Park.
White-nose syndrome, a disease deadly to bats, has been confirmed at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
Park Superintendent Mark Woods said laboratory tests on three bats from the park's more than 30 caves tested positive for the disease.White-nose syndrome is known to be transmitted primarily from bat to bat, but it can be carried between caves by humans on clothing, footwear, and caving gear.
White-nose syndrome is not known to affect people, pets, or livestock but is harmful or lethal to hibernating bats.
The USDA Forest Service is extending mine and cave closures to help protect bats, in the fight against white nose syndrome. The disease is expected to spread to caves and abandoned mines in the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Biologists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have confirmed that two bats found in a park cave have white-nose syndrome. The fungus that causes the disease had been found earlier in the Smokies.