Experts taking measures to protect Arkansas bats

BATESVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - Wildlife experts are taking measures to ensure the safety of bats here in Arkansas.

They estimate that more than 7 million bats have died in the United States over the last eight years due to a fungus that is quickly spreading. They say traces of the fungus have caused a few bats to die in Arkansas, but is still in its beginning stages.

"A miracle would be good. I really don't see a simple easy solution to this," said Lyon College professor Dave Thomas, who studies caves and bats in Northern Arkansas.

The fungus causes a deadly reaction known as white-nose syndrome and was first discovered in 2006 in New York. Over the years, the fungus causing the reaction has spread to the southern and western parts of the country, forcing governments to close caves in fear of contamination.

"The fungus starts growing on the bat and it wakes the bat up, but it's still the middle of winter and there are no bugs to eat," continued Thomas. "So these bats literally starve themselves to death in the middle of hibernation."

The cave closures are affecting cavers that use the caves to explore.

"When [the caves] were closed it severely limited our options," said Chad Holderfield, vice-chairman of the Little Rock grotto.

Holderfield and his group of cavers have had to work around the closures- which have shut down some of the biggest caves in the state.

"A lot of people were concerned for the hobby," continued Holderfield. "But more or less understood it was a necessary evil to preserve our ecosystem."

Until a solution is found more than 2,000 Arkansas caves stand at the mercy of a fungus researchers still are trying to figure out.

The fungus isn't dangerous to humans, but the caves will remain closed for the next five years so researchers can continue to study it and how exactly it spreads.

They say if they don't find a solution it could endanger the entire bat species.


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