Conservation

This page has been established to disseminate information about cave and karst conservation related matters for Australian cavers.
At this stage there is no intention to run a forum on topics from this page. Any inquiries about topics posted or new material for the page should be addressed to the National Convenor of the Conservation Commission.

Attention: All cavers intending to visit caves in USA

White Nose Syndrome of Bats

Background

The White Nose Syndrome was detected in bats in and around hibernation caves in North East USA and there is an associated very high mortality rate. It is associated with fat depletion and bats in poor condition may have a fungal infection around the nose, hence the name. A number of species of cave dwelling bats are affected including three species of Myotis and one of Perimyotis. The syndrome was recognised in the winter of 2006-7 in two caves in New York State. During the present 2007-8 winter affected bats have been found in at least 20 caves and mine sites in New York State, Vermont, Massachusetts and West Virginia showing the syndrome has spread geographically from the original sites. The mortality estimate for the two original caves was 90 and 97% and it has galvanised the State and Federal instrumentalities to investigate and research the problem. It is currently quite unclear whether the spread is due to an infectious agent or some other environmental factor such as climate, food availability or environmental contaminants. The bats use other caves and mines during spring, summer and autumn and multiple species share the same caves. It is also not certain whether the apparent spread of the syndrome is from bat to bat transmission or whether spread has been caused by humans transferring "infectious agents" from cave to cave.

Efforts in the USA are directed at research into causes. Closure of caves to human visitors is being used to prevent spread. This means that disinfection protocols are advised for clothing, boots and equipment to prevent introducing the "disease" to new areas and this is relevant to cavers visiting the USA and particularly the North Eastern states and nearby areas.

Decontamination guidelines are given below. These use hypochlorite based bleach solutions (bleach diluted 1/10). The protocol is appropriate for all clothing and boots. Should vertical gear (ropes and webbing) need decontamination you should consult  the NSS cave chat forum..

Australian Context

  • For cavers this reinforces the need to clean your clothing, boots and equipment between different caves, different cave areas and particularly when returning from anywhere overseas. This is provided for in our current Minimum Impact Caving.
  • A cleaning protocol to minimise the risk of introducing fungi or other infectious agents that might be specifically associated with the white nose syndrome, based on decontamination with bleach, is provided below in the current US Fish and Wildlife advice for white nose syndrome. This protocol is suitable for decontamination between caves and cave areas where infectious agents are a concern (histoplasmosis) or for blood contamination.
  • Ideally, it would be best if any clothing or other gear worn in a cave in North America is not brought back into Australia.
  • Should there be a causative infectious agent of white nose syndrome our cave dwelling bats must be considered susceptible and this is why there is very real Australian concern about this syndrome.

Further sources of information

WNS an ASF update 2015

These 2 files contain information contained in the link above: Bat Conservation and Diseases  and White Nose Syndrome in bats

Other sources

For updates on WNS, including articles in the press, cave closures, science, and activities by state agencies and cave conservancies, go to the NSS home page and click on the link "Updates on the White-Nose Syndrome crisis in Bat Colonies." The page this is linked to is run by Bob Hoke.

Another very good site is Earth Files

We attach a document Whitenose Guidelines for visitors” from Margaret Turton of the Australasian Bat Society and based on advice from US Fish and Wildlife Service advice 

Updated 1 March 2015

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