A hibernating Little Brown Bat shows signs of the fungus present in White Nose Syndrome. - Image credit: Marvin Moriarty/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Public asked to report bat sightings

White nose syndrome leads to bats flying in winter or death.

A deadly bat disease is making its way west, so researchers are asking for your help.

White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America, has moved to the West Coast, reports Mandy Kellner, provincial coordinator with the BC Community Bat Program.

Confirmed in Washington State in 2016 and 2017, the presence of the fungus is worrisome for the health of bat populations in B.C., with close to 100 per cent mortality for some species of bats exposed to the fungus, she says. Although devastating for bats, WNS does not affect humans.

The BC Community Bat Program, in collaboration with the B.C. government, is requesting the public’s help in monitoring the spread of the disease.

Related link: Disease threatens bat population

“We knew this deadly fungus was moving westward across North America,” says Kellner, “but we thought we had many years to prepare.”

Instead, she says, the disease has suddenly appeared in the West, spurring B.C. researchers into action.

“Because we know so little about where our B.C. bats hibernate, researchers are turning to the public for assistance in monitoring for the disease.”

The typical first sign of the disease is bats flying during the winter, an unusual sighting at a time of year when bats are hibernating. Another sign is the appearance of dead bats as they succumb to the effects of WNS.

“We are encouraging the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the Community Bat Project (CBP) toll-free phone number, website, or email. Bat carcasses will be submitted for testing for White Nose Syndrome and would provide the earliest indication of the presence of the disease in B.C.,” says Kellner.

If you find a dead bat, you’re asked to report it at 1-855-922-2287 ext. 24 or email: info@bcbats.ca as soon as possible.

Never touch a dead bat with your bare hands, Kellner warns. If you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat, you will need further information regarding the risk of rabies.

Currently there are no treatments for bats with White Nose Syndrome. However, mitigating other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound. This is where the BC Community Bat Program and the general public can help.

The program website can be found at www.bcbats.ca.

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