Disease could wipe out bats at Carlsbad Caverns | KOB 4
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Disease could wipe out bats at Carlsbad Caverns

Robert Towne
August 21, 2018 11:50 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Every summer night, visitors from around the world flock to Carlsbad Caverns to watch hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from their roost.

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But researchers say a deadly disease affecting bats is now on New Mexico’s doorstep, and precautions need to be taken in order to preserve one of the state’s most spectacular nature shows.

The disease is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), and while it poses no danger to humans, it can be deadly for bats. The disease is spread by a fungus known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd). The fungus has already killed millions of bats in the East and Midwest since it was first detected in 2006, and over the years it has steadily crept westward.

Recent detections of Pd in Texas and the confirmation of WNS in Oklahoma have scientists in New Mexico worried. Among the locations taking precautions are Carlsbad Caverns National Park and El Malpais National Monument, Fort Stanton Cave in Lincoln County, and Cottonwood Cave in the Lincoln National Forest.

"As the leading edge of the white-nose syndrome disease front advances, we do not fully know how the fungus will behave in these environments, particularly in the Southwest," said Dr. Jeremy Coleman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's coordinator for the disease. "Given the documented spread in 2018, we encourage land managers to follow national guidance by taking action to limit further spread of the fungus."

The fear is that New Mexico bats may fly into regions where the fungus is located, and bring it back to their roost. If that happens, it’s likely that thousands of bats, including the iconic residents of Carlsbad Caverns, could perish.

Although bats, themselves, are the primary way the fungus spreads, the possible spread by humans is enough of a concern for parks to initiate the following precautions:

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NPS), where researchers sampled the main cavern and three other caves in the park
  • Install mats at exits from the main cavern and elevators to capture microbial material on the soles of cave visitors' shoes
  • Purchase new (uncontaminated) caving equipment for guided tours in some backcountry caves
  • Continue to require permits and decontamination of clothing and equipment for backcountry caves
  • Evaluate all bat sites for possible additional actions
  • Cottonwood Cave and other Lincoln National Forest locations (FS), where Pd prevention practices have been in use since 2010
  • Continue to monitor bat populations in all inhabited caves
  • No entry to any cave without a permit
  • Decontamination of clothing and gear required before cave or mine entry
  • El Malpais National Monument (NPS), where eight caves were sampled
  • Continue to monitor and control access with cave user permits
  • Mandatory decontamination measures before cave entry
  • Add post-entry decontamination mats
  • Further restrict use of caves when needed to prevent spread of Pd
  • Fort Stanton Cave in Lincoln County and public lands caves and abandoned mines (BLM), where precautionary measures have been in use since 2010
  • Continued cave monitoring and special recreation permits for caves with significant bat roosts
  • Mandatory pre- and post-entry decontamination in all caves and mines
  • Evaluate all important bat sites for possible additional actions
  • Notify mine claimholders about possible presence of Pd and proper decontamination practices

State and federal agencies in New Mexico and throughout the West are also asking outdoor enthusiasts to heed the following recommendations:

  • Stay out of closed caves and mines
  • Decontaminate footwear and gear before and after visiting or touring caves and other places where bats live
  • Do not touch bats; report dead or sick ones to rangers or wildlife biologists
  • Gear and clothing used in Pd-positive or WNS-infected areas should not be used in New Mexico or areas free of Pd
  • To avoid accidentally transporting bats, check canopies, umbrellas and other outdoor items for any bats that may have roosted in a nook or cranny

For more information:

Credits

Robert Towne

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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