Officials of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have closed all caves over concern about a disease affecting bats.
The National Park Service said the malady known as White-nose Syndrome has killed an estimated 400,000 bats in the Northeast. White-nose Syndrome is named for a white fungus that shows up on the faces of bats.
The disease causes bats to come out of hibernation severely underweight to the point that they often starve before the insects on which they feed emerge in the spring. Once a colony is infected with the fungus, it spreads rapidly and may kill up to 90% of the bats within that cave in one season.
Smokies biologist Bill Stiver said the disease hasn't been found in Tennessee or North Carolina, but closing the caves will help protect native populations of bats against it.
The disease is believed to be transmitted from bat to bat, but the fungus could be carried into a cave by a person who visits from an infected area.
The disease is taking a heavy toll on bats that hibernate in caves and mines in nine states from Virginia to New Hampshire.
On the recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the park has closed 17 caves and two mine complexes.
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