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Biologist Al Hicks

Biologist Al Hicks

Bat Disease May Have Been Introduced by Humans, Expert Says

By Anthony F. Hall

Thursday, January 20, 2011

White Nose Syndrome, the disease that’s killed 95% of the bats in Hague’s Graphite Mine, may be classified by scientists as “previously undescribed,” but that doesn’t mean it’s never been seen before, biologist Al Hicks told a meeting of the Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter in Newcomb last weekend.

Researchers in Europe have long noticed similar fungal growth on the faces, ears, and wings of hibernating bats, said Hicks, who’s led the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s investigation of the catastrophic death of the northeast’s bats since 2006, when hundreds of dead bats were first observed by amateurs exploring caves near Albany.

“The identical fungus has shown up occasionally on European bats, but it was not an obvious sign of mortality,” said Hicks.

“It looks like White Nose Syndrome is an exotic from Europe, an invasive species,” said Hicks.

Having concluded, at least provisionally, that White Nose Syndrome is a cause rather than a symptom of the bats’ mortality, scientists now believe that it was probably introduced by humans to one of New York State’s caves, some of which  are visited by tens of thousands of tourists every year.

Between 2007 and 2008 the disease spread to caves within a 150 mile radius of the sites near Albany where the fungus may have been introduced and where the first dead bats were found.

Among other places, the disease spread to the abandoned graphite mine in Hague, where approximately half of the endangered Indiana bats in New York hibernate.

The den, which is the hibernaculum of several other species of bats, such as the little brown bat, was gated by the Nature Conservancy and Bat Conservation International in 1997.

In 2006, it became one of the first bat caves in New York State to be protected by a DEC program that preserves the habitats of rare and endangered species

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