In January of last year, I posted an article here entitled North American Bats in Trouble.
The piece discussed the spread of a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome, which threatens bats by compromising their immune systems and imposing upon them a state of malnutrition. At the time of publication, White-Nose Syndrome, which likely has its origins in Europe, had spread to some 19 American states and four Canadian provinces. Katie Gillies, the Imperiled Species Coordinator for Bat Conservation International described the threat of white-nose syndrome this way: "We are witnessing what may well be an extinction event."
Locally, biologists and forestry officials implemented preventative measures, such as closing off popular caves to human intrusion. As of the winter of January, 2013, the fungus had not yet spread into the Arkansas Ozark region.
Bad news arrived several weeks ago in the form of an article appearing in the January 13, 2014 edition of Fayetteville's The Free Weekly newspaper. The piece, entitled White-Nose Syndrome Confirmed in Arkansas Bats, reports that as of January 11 of this year, five bats were found dead in a Marian County cave on land managed by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Authorities brought two of the bats collected to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center where experts confirmed that damage to various membrane tissue is consistent with that caused by white-nose syndrome. Researchers also discovered that the infected cave is home to three species of bat, which include the endangered Ozark big-eared bat, tri-colored bats and the northern long-eared bat. In October, 2013 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the northern long-eared bat receive endangered species protection.
Last summer, researchers discovered low levels of the lethal fungus in a cave in Washington County's Devil's Den State Park and in a private cave located in Baxter County. As of today, none of the bats tested in these caves have developed symptoms of the fungus. Still, white-bat syndrome continues to spread and threaten the survivability of these magnificent animals.
References: The Free Weekly: White-Nose Syndrome Confirmed in Arkansas Bats.
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