Bat disease spreads in Vermont

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(Host) A mystifying disease that’s afflicting bats in the Northeast has been found in another cave in Vermont.

And officials say they’re concerned because that cave – Aoelus Cave in Dorset – is home to the largest population of hibernating bats in New England.

Thousands of bats have died in and around caves in Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. No one is sure what’s causing the deaths.

The affliction has been dubbed White Nose Syndrome because many of the bats have been found with a white fungus around their noses and mouths.

Scott Darling is a bat biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. He visited the Aoelus Cave last week and saw dead and weakened bats.

(Darling) “This is afflicting the heart of our bat populations. And bats are long-lived species. They have very low reporductive rates of only one pup per year. So, with the prospects of 80-90 percent mortality, if in fact we continue to see this happen, it’s going to take a very long time for our bat population to rebound.”

(Host) Cave enthusiasts are cooperating with wildlife officials.

Vermont Cavers Association President Peter Youngbaer says the affected caves have been place off limits for now.

(Youngbaer) “Clearly, the bats are important. They’re important medically. They’re important for eating bugs and pollinating things and keeping that ecosystem going. With other pollinators, such as the bees, under stress recently, we have to watch all of this stuff.”

(Host) Scientists are still researching what might be causing the bats to die. Experts say this a critical time of the year for bats. They typically do not emerge from hibernation this time of year and if they do there’s no food for them to survive.

Photo courtesy of Al Hicks, New York DEC

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