A hibernating little brown bat with signs of White-nose syndrome. (Alan Hicks photo)

A hibernating little brown bat with signs of White-nose syndrome. (Alan Hicks photo)

Public’s help needed in tracking fatal bat disease

White Nose Syndrome may affect B.C. bat populations

A fatal disease is threatening B.C. bat populations and a local bat program is asking the public to help monitor the spread of the disease.

White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America, has made its way to the west coast.

The disease was confirmed in Washington State, 150 kilometres south of the B.C. and U.S. border.

The Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) Bat Program is asking members of the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the HAT Bat Program coordinator.

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“We believe that our bats hibernate in relatively small groups across the province,” said Mandy Kellner, the provincial coordinator for the BC Community Bat Program. “Detecting White Nose Syndrome in our province will require many eyes on the ground.”

A typical first sign of White Nose Syndrome is bats flying during the winter, an unusual sighting when bats are supposed to be hibernating. Another sign of the disease is the appearance of dead bats outdoors.

According to a news release from the Habitat Acquisition Trust, the disease has near 100 per cent mortality for some species of bats exposed to the fungus, including the Little Brown Myotis bat which can be found across Canada.

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Any dead bats reported to the HAT Bat Program will be tested for White Nose Syndrome and might provide early indication of the disease in B.C. Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.

The HAT Bat Program recommends to not touch a dead bat with your bare hands. If a person or pet has been in direct contact with a bat, further information regarding the risk of rabies will be required.

White Nose Syndrome does not pose a threat to humans, but there are currently no treatments for the disease in bats.

Any sightings of dead bats or winter bat activity can be reported to the HAT Bat Program at bat@hat.bc.ca or by calling 250-995-2428.

shalu.mehta@goldstreamgazette.com