Kootenay Community Bat Project bat ambassador Dawna-Lea Ringer and coordinating biologist Leigh Anne Isaac show some of the different sizes of bats in the region. Keri Sculland/Star Photo

Reporting bats in the Kootenays could save millions

It seems that winter is finally upon us, and all of the big and small animals have gone away to hide from the cold.

At this time of year, bats are finding warmth in numbers by hibernating in mines and caves.

Every couple of weeks, the bats rouse from their sleep and fly around a bit, says Kootenay Community Bat Project coordinating biologist Leigh Anne Isaac.

But, if people see bats outside during the daytime, or dead bats, they are asked to get in contact with the Golden Community Bat Program right away.

Volunteers and scientists with the Kootenay Community Bat Project have been monitoring bats in the area to ensure white nose syndrome hasn’t spread to the area. The fungus, which starts at the tip of bats’ noses, is lethal to bats in North America. It originally came over from Europe, where the bats have built an immunity to the disease, but bats here don’t have the same evolutionary coping mechanism against the fungus.

“The fungus comes from Europe, and the bats there have evolved with it,” said Kootenay Community Bat Project ambassador Joyce DeBoer.

The fungus was seen in the western U.S., and has potential to travel up through the states into Canada. The implications of the fungus could mean bat species might suffer a drastic death toll. And, since they are so important to the ecosystem, there would likely be everlasting environmental impacts.

“If things happen like it did in the east, millions of animals are wiped out,” Isaac said, adding that the fungus was first seen on the East Coast, and was likely spread by a human to the west. “There are unknown and untold consequences.”

DeBoer said that some farmers are finding they have to use more pesticides on their crops because of the sudden decrease in bat activity that would normally take care of insect problems.

Isaac was in the community last week teaching people about bats in community groups, at the high school, and at events around town.

“What we’d like to do is remind people that bats can be out in the winter,” said DeBoer.

There are around 16 different species of bats in British Columbia, ranging in sizes. Typically, they roost in caves and mines in the winter, which can be difficult for researchers to find and access. Climbers and cavers are asked to be on the lookout for bat roosts, and can use the website www.batcavers.org to learn more about what to do when they find bats, how they can help, and how they can prevent the spread of the white nose fungus as they travel throughout different caves.

More information about bats and the Kootenay Community Bat Project can be found on their Facebook page by the same name, or at www.bcbats.ca.

To report unusual bat activity or newly dead bats, e-mail dawna-lea@outlook.com.

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