Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fish and Wildlife Service says to stay out of caves in 13 states, to slow spread of fungus killing bats

"From Maine to North Carolina to Kentucky, people are being asked to stay out of caves where bats hibernate, in an effort to slow the spread of a disease that's killed half a million of nature's only flying mammals in just over two years," reports Jim Bruggers of The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

"White-nose syndrome" is a fungus that causes bats to come out of hibernation early, and many die from cold and lack of food. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it a "wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions" in which entire species could be lost, causing population explosions among mosquitoes and other pests. The agency is advising people to stay out of caves in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, where the disease has been found, plus Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, where it could easily spread. An agency spokeswoman said cave explorers could be carrying it from cave to cave.

"It's amazing how fast it's moved south," Steve Thomas, an ecologist at Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park, told Bruggers. While the advisory doesn't apply to park or commercial caves, it could be extended. (Read more)

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