Covering The Environment

Feb 15, 2013 10:13 AM

White-Nose Syndrome Found In Two Kentucky State Parks

White-nose syndrome, a disease deadly to hibernating bats, has been found in caves at Carter Caves State Resort Park and Kingdom Come State Park.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first identified in New York in 2006 and has rapidly spread throughout the eastern United States and Canada. The disease is caused by a newly discovered fungus and has killed millions of bats since its discovery. There is no known cure for white-nose syndrome and biologists believe it is being spread by infected bats. The disease does not pose a threat to people, pets, or livestock.

Since the first documented case in Kentucky in April 2011, biologists have discovered 25 likely infected or confirmed WNS sites, spanning the state from Trigg County in the west to as far east as Carter and Letcher counties.

Bats with the disease were found recently at Carter Caves, near Olive Hill, in caves that are not open to the public. The three caves where bats with the disease were found are Bat, Saltpetre and Laurel Caves, which were closed in 2008 as part of the effort to stop the spread of the fungus causing the disease.

Carter Caves is home to about 40,000 Indiana bats, which are federally endangered. The majority of those are found within Bat Cave, which is also part of the Bat Cave State Nature Preserve.

The Kentucky State Parks require guests who take tours in two caves at Carter Caves State Resort Park to disinfect their footwear and to not wear clothing that has been worn in other caves. These steps, begun in the fall of 2011, are intended to limit the spread of the disease, which disrupts bats while they hibernate in the winter, leading to starvation or dehydration. The name comes from the appearance of white fungus that grows on the muzzle and other body parts of hibernating bats.

Carter Caves plans to continue conducting public tours of Cascade and X-Cave.

A bat with the disease also was found in January at Line Fork Cave at Kingdom Come State Park during a routine cave survey. The cave is gated and not open to tourists. This cave is in Letcher County, located inside the 225-acre Kingdom Come State Park Nature Preserve and is home to the federally protected Indiana bat.

Earlier this year, officials at Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky announced that white-nose syndrome had been found in a cave at that park.

The spread of white-nose syndrome through Kentucky is significant because of the untold thousands of bats that hibernate in the state's vast network of caves. Bats play a key role in the health of our ecosystems. They are the primary predators of night-flying insects, consuming forest and agricultural pests. An analysis published by Science magazine showed that pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion annually.

WNS has been found in the following counties in Kentucky: Bell, Breckinridge, Carter, Christian, Edmonson, Hart, Letcher, Trigg, Warren, and Wayne.

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