Scientists by the dozen continue to study different factors that could be causing the death of thousands of bats.
The use of pesticides, the impact of climate change and unknown pathogens are all possibilities, but nothing has been ruled out, said David Blehert, head of diagnostic microbiology at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.
Following two massive die-offs discovered in Albany County caves after the winters of 2006 and 2007, wildlife officials began studying a white fungus substance on specimens both living and dead.
Dubbed “white-nose syndrome,” because of the fungus, the affliction is considered an important issue both for the bats’ sake and for the role they play in the environment, Blehert said.
“It’s just unusual. That’s our job, to try to investigate causes of unusual wildlife activity,” Blehert said. “You’re not supposed to find thousands of dead bats, or, in caves that used to have 100,000 bats, find none at all.”
Blehert said scientists are isolating fungi and bacterium in bat tissue samples and large numbers of those tests might lead to a clue.
A sufficient number of tests, once results are complete, will be put on a spreadsheet and studied, he said.
“Maybe we will see some trend,” Blehert said.
So far, unexplained bat deaths have been confirmed in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, according to the USGS.
Afflicted bat species so far include the little brown, big brown, northern long-eared and eastern pipistrelle, according to the USGS.
New York State Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone said he continues to study dead bats. He was expecting four more on Friday, he said.
Stone said there is still no indication that the affliction poses any threat to people.
Stone said one potentially good sign in related work so far is some of the bats found alive yet still in poor shape have been rehabilitated.
“It is hopeful, with at least a couple of species of bats, that the starving animals seem to turn the corner relatively quickly,” Stone said.
The ability to rehabilitate the bats could indicate that they are suffering from malnutrition, not some disease they catch that kills them, Stone said.
“If you have a virus that’s chewing away at you and going to kill you, it will keep on going,” he said.
“I do not think the bats are going to go extinct,” Stone said.
The Northeastern Cave Conservancy recently issued a statement alerting cavers that the conservancy’s caves, closed since Feb. 10 because of the white nose syndrome, will reopen Thursday.
NCC President Robert Addis on Friday said the conservancy is urging cavers to clean off their gear and follow decontamination procedures when they begin entering caves.
Addis said the progress in research will affect decisions on whether the conservancy will close down its caves in the fall. Typically, the organization does not, he said.
In the interest of the bats’ health, the conservancy may shut caves down by Oct. 15, which is considered the start of winter hibernation in the northeast.
More information on research into the bat mystery can be found at www.nwhc.usgs.gov.
Information on suggested decontamination procedures can be found at www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html.
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