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Public asked to be on lookout for white nose syndrome in bats

People who have come across dead or sick bats that may have contracted white nose syndrome are asked to notify the BC Community Bat Program. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
People who have come across dead or sick bats that may have contracted white nose syndrome are asked to notify the BC Community Bat Program.
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

The province of B.C., in partnership with the BC Community Bat Program and other concerned groups, are asking the public to be on the lookout for dead or sick bats that may have contracted an invasive fungal disease called white nose syndrome.

White nose syndrome has not been detected in British Columbia; however, it was detected in Washington State in 2016 and the risk of its arrival is very high. The disease, which refers to a white fungus that grows on the muzzles or bodies of bats, has killed more than six million bats since arriving in the eastern United States in 2006 and reaching Canada in 2010.

The disease stays dormant in bats during warmer months, and when the temperature drops while hibernating, the fungus grows. The disease causes infected bats to rouse frequently and early during hibernation and they essentially starve since they cannot find their diet of insects during the cold winter months.

It kills 80-100 per cent of Little Brown Bats and Northern Bats, resulting in an emergency listing of both these species under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2014. White nose syndrome does not infect humans.

Back in 2013, a group of kids in Chilliwack with the Eastern Fraser Valley Young Naturalists Club (now known as Eastern Fraser Valley NatureKids Club) were doing their part to help save the small creatures by building and erecting special boxes for nursing female bats and their babies. The bat boxes were spread out in a wide open field where they could get full and direct sunlight throughout the entire day, to keep the boxes at a certain temperature. This is key to their success.

The province is responding to the risk of white nose syndrome by increasing surveillance, outreach and developing a series of best management practices for protecting bat populations. It is also working with bat experts throughout B.C. and beyond to ensure a coordinated approach to detect and mitigate the impact of white nose syndrome on bat populations in B.C. This includes working to better understand bat behaviour and use of habitat in B.C., to help design strategies to protect bats, as well as to help them recover from the effects of the disease. Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture's Animal Health Centre is one of two labs in Canada nationally recognized to test for the fungus that causes white nose syndrome.

Bats are important to both the environment and economy. Bats are major predators of invertebrates, helping to control forest, agriculture and urban pests. For example, endangered Little Brown Bats can eat 600 mosquitoes per hour. Researchers estimate that bats provide billions of dollars in pest control services annually in North America.

Please help by reporting bats that are flying or found dead, during winter and early spring, to the BC Community Bat Program at 1-855-922-2287 or email: info@bcbats.ca.

Do not attempt to capture sick or injured bats and do not touch a dead bat with your bare hands due to a risk of rabies. If you do find a dead bat, collect it in a plastic bag using leather gloves and label the bag with the date, location, your name and contact information, then put the bag in the freezer and contact the B.C. Community Bat Program. More info: www.bcbats.ca.

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