According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, White-nose Syndrome has now been officially documented in North Carolina.
According to the press release published earlier this week, White-nose syndrome was discovered in a retired mine in Avery County, and in a cave at Grandfather Mountain State Park.
“White-nose syndrome is confirmed in Virginia and Tennessee, so we expected we would be one of the next states to see the disease,” said Gabrielle Graeter, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “This discovery marks the arrival of one of the most devastating threats to bat conservation in our time.”
On Feb. 1, a team of Commission biologists were conducting a bat inventory of the closed mine where they saw numerous bats displaying symptomatic white patches of fungus on their skin. Five bats from the mine were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit at the University of Georgia for testing, which confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome.
In late January, a team of state, federal, and private biologists were conducting a bat inventory of a cave at Grandfather Mountain when they discovered a single dead bat. Following state white-nose syndrome surveillance protocols, the bat was sent for testing and it has been confirmed for white-nose syndrome.
North Carolina is home to three federally endangered bats, the Virginia big-eared, Indiana, and gray. Virginia big-eared bats are known from the Grandfather Mountain cave and have been seen in the Avery county mine, though not recently. Thus far, the disease has not been observed in Virginia big-eared bats farther north, however it has greatly impacted Indiana bat populations at infected caves and mines. Both of the North Carolina sites have Eastern small-footed, little brown, Northern long-eared, and tri-colored bats while big brown bats are also found at the mine – all bat species that have been affected to some degree by white-nose syndrome in the Northeast.
“The discovery does not bode well for the future of many species of bats in western North Carolina,” said Sue Cameron with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “Although researchers are working hard to learn more about the disease, right now so little is known. There has been some evidence that humans may inadvertently spread the disease from cave to cave, so one simple step people can take to help bats is to stay out of caves and mines.”
In 2009, fearing the disease could be transferred from cave to cave by humans, the Service released a cave advisory asking people to refrain from entering caves in states where white-nose syndrome has been confirmed and all adjoining states. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission holds a protective easement on the mine and both it and the Grandfather Mountain cave have been gated and closed to the public for years to protect hibernating bats.
Below is a map of white-nose syndrome by county/district as of 02/09/2011. You can click the map for a full-size version:
For more information about the disease you can visit http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome.