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Latest Feature

Upsidedown and Underground: Going to Bat for Bats

Dr Cori Lausen searches underground for bats. Photo by Nelson Star

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) Canada has teamed up with cavers across western Canada in an effort to stop the spread of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) by launching the BatCaver program.

Bats in North America face catastrophic declines due to a fungal pathogen causing WNS. Typified by a white fungus growing on the nose of bats, the disease kills the animals while they hibernate and has spread across eastern North America, with up to 99 percent mortality of bats in any given winter roost.

The chief aim of the BatCaver program is to combat the devastating effects of this disease by working directly with the caving community in Western Canada to identify hibernacula and provide surveillance for any signs of the disease.

The program is implemented by cavers who deploy specialized equipment underground that detects bat ultrasound. This will identify important areas where bats hibernate and which species are overwintering. This information in turn will help managers and biologists make decisions about where to focus limited financial resources and what strategies to employ.

In addition, the program promotes the use of decontamination protocols by cavers to prevent the spread of WNS to B.C. These protocols were written by cavers in BC and Alberta and endorsed by both provincial governments and the Canadian Interagency White Nose Syndrome Committee.

Cori Lausen, WCS Canada Associate Conservation Scientist, who led the development of BatCaver said "We are partnering with the people who know these caves, and who are in the best position to help biologists create and implement critical bat conservation strategies.

Bats are long-lived mammals with studies indicating some species have a life span of more than thirty years. Because they reproduce slowly and each female gives birth to only a single pup per year - bat populations are unable to rebound following mass mortality events such as that being caused by WNS.

The caving communities in Alberta and BC have been overwhelmingly supportive of helping with bat conservation,” said Dr. Lausen. “The BatCaver program was piloted last year and the response has already been tremendous. Not only are cavers helping us locate bat hibernacula, but they are developing policies to ensure visiting cavers and members of their clubs do not inadvertently spread the disease westward.

To learn more about BatCaver, click here.

To read a blog by Cori Lausen on BatCaver and stopping White Nose Syndrome, click here

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