The Kootenay Community Bat Project (KCBP) is once again asking Kootenay residents for help in the monitoring of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America.
WNS has spread to the west coast, specifically in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, just 150km south of the BC-US border.
Leigh Anne Isaac, Coordinating Biologist for the KCBP, explained in a press release that the presence of WNS is very worrisome for the health of bat populations in BC.
The disease has near 100 per cent mortality rate for some species of bats, however the disease does not affect humans.
Isaac says that tracking the spread of the disease relies on public assistance.
“Detection of WNS in BC is challenging because our bats appear to hibernate in small groups across the province” said Isaac. “To monitor the spread of the disease, we need more eyes on the ground. Outdoor enthusiasts and homeowners with roosts on their property may be the first to find evidence of trouble.”
Signs of the disease include unusual bat activity in winter and the appearance of dead bats outdoors as they succumb to the effects of WNS, Isaac says. Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.
“We are encouraging the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the KCBP 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 BC,” Isaac explained.
Bats generally hibernate out of sight during the winter months and not every bat sighting signals disaster. The KCBP explains that bats often hibernate by themselves in a woodpile or basement entryway. If possible, these bats should be left alone. The best way to report your sighting is to keep you distance, snap a photo and send it to the KCBP.
If you feel you must move a bat, refer to the website www.bcbats.ca for advice. KCBP also advises to never touch a bat with your bare hands because they can carry other diseases such as rabies.
Bat are also occasionally spotted flying on relatively warm winter days or evenings, says Isaac.
“Healthy bats may wake up to drink or even eat, if insects are active. Enjoy these sightings, and remember to let us know when and where winter bat activity was observed and weather conditions during that time,” she says.
If you find a dead bat, report it to the KCBP (www.bcbats.ca, email@example.com, or 1-855-922-2287 ext. 14) as soon as possible for further information. Note that if you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat you will need further information regarding the risk of rabies to you and your pet.
“Currently there are no treatments for 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,” Issac said.
This is where the KCBP and the general public can help. Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the Province of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Regional District of the East and Central Kootenays (via their respective local conservation funds), the KCBP works with the Kootenay residents and local governments on public outreach activities, public reports of roosting bats in buildings, the Annual BC Bat Count, and developing bat-friendly communities.
To contact the Kootenay Community Bat Project, see www.bcbats.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-855-922-2287 ext. 14.