Friday, May 1, 2009

People should stay out of caves to protect bats

The following news release was issued by the Mark Twain National Forest Supervisor's Office:

ROLLA, Mo. -- A relatively new illness affecting bats throughout eastern US has prompted Mark Twain National Forest to ask forest visitors to stay out of Mark Twain National Forest caves and abandoned mines for the next year.

An April 24, 2009 emergency closure order applies to caves and abandoned mines in Mark Twain National Forest’s 29 counties in southern and central Missouri. Similar emergency closure orders were issued April 24, 2009 for National Forests in 33 states east of the Great Plains and Puerto Rico.

Nearly 500,000 bats have died in New England and Mid-Atlantic states in the last two years as a result of white-nose syndrome, including almost 25,000 endangered Indiana bats.

“We’re asking the public to stay out of Mark Twain National Forest caves to reduce the chances of spreading white-nose fungus to Missouri,” said David Whittekiend, Mark Twain National Forest Supervisor.
“This will give the Forest Service time to work with its scientific partners and public to determine how to best protect Missouri bats.”

White-nose syndrome is named for a white fungus that appears on hibernating bat faces, ears, wings, and feet, as a symptom of a yet unknown underlying disease.

The disease causes bats to come out of hibernation severely underweight, often starving before insects – on which they feed – emerge in spring. Once a colony is infected, the fungus spreads rapidly and has the possibility of killing over 90% of bats within the cave in two years.

Scientists believe the fungus is spread by bats. There are also indications it may be unknowingly transferred from one cave/mine to another on human footwear and gear.

There have been no reported human illnesses attributed to the fungus.

"White-nose syndrome has already infected bats in mines on the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont and caves on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia,” Whittekiend said. "We are asking the public to stay out of caves in the hopes of protecting some of the largest bat populations in the United States."

Many national forests are home to several species of bats, including the federally endangered Indiana bat and grey bat as well as the more common little brown bat. Bats are a natural and important part of the forests, making a significant contribution towards the control of forest and agricultural insect pests.

Mark Twain National Forest has approximately 600 caves.

For more information about Mark Twain National Forest visit our website at

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