Washington state authorities announced that they have the first confirmed case of a rare bat-killing disease that has wiped out up to 7 million of bats in the Eastern U.S. over the last decade. It is the first time such case is reported on the West Coast.
Authorities tested the blood of a small brown bat found by a hiker in mid-March on a mountain trail in western Washington and it turned out positive to the white-nose syndrome, a devastating disease that kills every bat it encounters.
The hiker said that the little bat looked ill so he took it to an animal center hoping he could save it. After two days, however, the furry mammal was dead. But the veterinarian that examined the animal’s corpse made a shocking discovery: the bat was killed by a disease that has wiped millions of bats in just ten years since its emergence in New York.
It is highly unusual for the disease to be tracked in an animal living in the Pacific Northwest. Experts believe this first case could point to a second epicenter for the disease.
Katie Gillies, a researcher with the Texas-based Bat Conservation, believes that the situation is ‘really bad.’ The thousand-mile leap left her team speechless. They fear that the disease would spread from that first epicenter to the West Coast as well.
“It’s like having breast cancer and finding that it’s metastasized,”
Experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has been keeping an eye on the white-nose syndrome for a decade, were more reserved. The agency called for DNA testing of the dead animal and a comprehensive review of the disease before drawing any conclusions. Next, caves, crevices and other sites that bats call home will need a state-led sweep.
FWS deemed the confirmation ‘concerning.’ Dan Ashe of US FWS noted that bats are important pollinators, and play a crucial part in pest control. Wildlife biologists currently seek the source of the fungus that caused the disease on the U.S. West Coast. Their hypotheses include tourists that brought it from Europe or Asia, or cave explorers that got fungus spores on their clothing on the East Coast and brought it to the West.
Bats affected by the syndrome have a tell-tale white spot on their nose along with damaged wings. But the fungus needs years to push the animal’s wings into such a state, a wildlife researcher noted. So, experts currently speculate that the disease has been around on the West coast for years now.
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