White-Nose Syndrome (WNS)
WNS was first discovered in 2006. The disease nearly wiped out all of the bat population around the world. The first place they detected WNS was in Albany, New York. Cavers spread the fungus unwillingly from cave to cave when equipment is not disinfected from one cave to another.
The reason they call it WNS is because the bats developed a sort of white fuzz(fungus) on their nose, wings and their ears in some cases. The fungus grows in cold, damp environments like caves and old abandoned mines. The way the fungus kills the bats is that it eats away at their winter fat storage that the bats need to survive during the winter months. It eventually starves the bats and wakes them up during their hibernation. When the bats wake up during their hibernation, they can't find any food to resupply and they eventually die from starvation. The fungus also affects the wings, they say it might drain the water stored through their wings and it causes dehydration.
White-Nose Syndrome in the Atlantic province:
The first WNS sighting in the Atlantic province was first discovered in Albert County, NB In March 2011. The bats have been greatly affected by WNS. The White gypsum caves and the gypsum mine in Albert County are one of the most important hibernaculum for the bats to spend the winter months in. So it is very important for cavers to respect these places, especially during the winter months. The bats start hibernating in October and emerge around the month of March. The bats will start mating during the start of their hibernation and will deliver their pups in the month of Jun or July. Disturbing this cycle will gravely affect the bats from repopulating. The female bats can only carry one pup per year, this makes it very hard for the bats to repopulate in numbers. The Caves in Alma are not the only caves affected by the fungus, there are caves all around the Atlantic provinces like in Hayes Cave in Nova Scotia, where over 9000 bats were once recorded. Caves are not only home to bats, but Eastern Pipistrelle, Porcupines and some sighting of Keen's Bat.
Does it cause a threat to humans?
Answer: Not that we know of. Bats do carry different disease like rabies and can be very fatal to humans. If you encounter a dead bat don't try to handle it yourself. Contact your local wildlife department. If you see bats during the winter months, please contact DNR Fish & Wildlife (506) 453-3826 or Dr. Donald F. McAlpine at the New Brunswick Museum at (506) 643-2345 as it is not normal for them to be awake from December to April.
How to avoid the spreading of WNS when caving?
Before going caving you must always decontaminate your gear. That means ropes, helmet, footwear, headlamps, gloves and cloths before re-use in other caves. Even if you don't see bats with your own eyes it doesn't mean they are not in there. Some bat's lives deep inside the cave system. Bats can fit in places that humans can't. If you contaminate the hibernaculum with the fungus it will spread and grow inside the cave with you not even knowing it. Do not cave in hibernaculum with bats during the winter months.