People who explore the caves in a northeast Iowa park are being urged to go through “decontamination” afterwards, to prevent the spread of a fungus that has killed millions of North American bats.
Tests in March found one bat in Dancehall Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park carried the fungus that causes “white-nose syndrome” in bats. Ann Froschauer is national white-nose syndrome communications leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We do recognize that the bats are moving the fungus among their populations,” Froschauer says. “But we’re really just trying to prevent those large-distance jumps that may create a new epicenter for the disease.”
For example, Froschauer says a cave explorer could spread the fungus dramatically by jumping on a plane and flying to an area of the country where the fungus hasn’t yet been detected. While the fungus was detected on one of the 15 bats tested, officials don’t know whether any of the bats have the deadly disease caused by the fungus.
“We don’t have a magic looking glass that we can say for certain whether or not bats in this cave will become infected in a certain period of time,” Froschauer says. “But based on how the disease has progressed and moved through the states, I would say that it’s likely that over the next few years we’ll detect additional sites with the fungus and potentially have white-nose syndrome — the disease — express itself in bat populations in Iowa.”
Daryl Howell, a zoologist with the Iowa Dept of Natural Resources, says decomination mats have been ordered and should be placed at cave exits in the northeast Iowa park sometime Monday.
“So that when people leave, they will be walking across these to reduce the potential of carrying the spores of this fungus elsewhere,” Howell says.
More than 10,000 visitors to the park this year had already completed a brief training session to learn how to prevent the spread of this deadly fungus.
AUDIO of a 43-minute news conference state and local officials as well as researchers held late this morning to discuss the situation.
White-nose syndrome was first discovered in North America in 2006. By this past January it had been detected in 16 states as well as four Canadian provinces. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates more than six million bats have died after coming into contact with the fungus that causes the disease.