Find out what's trou­bling these lo­cal winged crea­tures

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - SEAN MACDOUGALL

Lit­tle brown bats of the Cape Bre­ton High­lands Na­tional Park are en­dur­ing a se­ri­ous dis­ease called white-nose syn­drome. The dis­ease comes from a fun­gus that spread from Europe to North Amer­ica in 2005. Ecol­o­gist Jared Tomie works for Parks Canada in the High­lands and mon­i­tors wildlife ac­tiv­ity within its bor­ders. He has been mon­i­tor­ing the bat pop­u­la­tion since the dis­ease ar­rived in the park in 2015.

On July 19, Tomie checked a “bat-de­tec­tor” sta­tioned at War­ren Lake that has been mon­i­tor­ing for bats since July 5. The de­tec­tor did show some ac­tiv­ity af­ter two-weeks, but Tomie said the num­ber was low. Bats emit ul­tra­sonic sound that the de­vice records onto mem­ory cards for Tomie to an­a­lyze. The de­tec­tor can record up to six to eight weeks of sound on a sin­gle bat­tery charge, which al­lows Tomie to get an idea of bat ac­tiv­ity in the area where white-nose syn­drome is present.

The dis­ease is caus­ing bats to wake in the mid­dle of a six to seven-month hi­ber­na­tion and look for fly­ing in­sects to eat that are not present in win­ter. This roused state causes bats to burn pre­cious fat needed to hi­ber­nate. As a re­sult, the bats are dy­ing in large num­bers from star­va­tion and de­hy­dra­tion.

The dis­ease was first con­firmed in New York state in 2005. Since then, it has spread through­out 22 states and five prov­inces. Ac­cord­ing to Hin­ter­land Who’s Who, some ar­eas have ex­pe­ri­enced bat pop­u­la­tions drop­ping to less than ten per­cent their orig­i­nal size within two years of ex­po­sure to whitenose.

While bats can be seen as pests that ap­pear in at­tics and barns, the best prac­tice is to live and let live. Ac­cord­ing to Tomie, bats leave the warm and dark dwellings in late Au­gust as swarm­ing sea­son for the bats will be­gin. Late-sum­mer and early fall is when the bats will look for caves and mines to hi­ber­nate in for the win­ter. As the bats leave, it’s rec­om­mended to cover all open­ings.

In place of an at­tic or barn, res­i­dents can con­struct a “bat­box”. These boxes are made with rough lum­ber and can be placed on a post in a res­i­dent’s back yard. These boxes al­low spa­ces for bats to stay in dur­ing the sum­mer with their young, while keep­ing them out of homes. This al­lows bats a safe place to nest along with the ben­e­fit of in­sect con­trol, as one bat can eat 1000 bugs ev­ery night.

“I like the bat box just be­cause they come with a great mes­sage of con­ser­va­tion,” said Tomie.

He said that plans for bat-boxes are com­mon and can be found on whitenosesyn­drome.org.

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