Cave regulations aim to protect bats

This post is from Missourian reporter Catherine O’Neill:

To prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome in bats, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is enforcing new guidelines for its caves.

Although the cause of white-nose syndrome remains a mystery, park staff is taking precautions to prevent the spread of the disease through new rules directed at cave users. Bats that contract the disease often starve to death, said Jim Gast, superintendent of the park.

According to Gast, white-nose appears to be affecting bats on the east coast. To ensure it doesn’t spread to caves in Missouri, anyone who has been caving on the east coast or in any other cave cannot wear the same gear unless it has been disinfected, Gast said.

As of now, the Missouri Department of Conservation has not closed any Missouri caves. However, if the syndrome spreads to bats in Kentucky, parks will have to decide whether to close the caves to protect the bats, Gast said.

“That would be devastating,” said Meredith Donaldson, 60, at a public meeting regarding Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. “We’ll have a lot more mosquitoes if we lose the bats.”

Bat Conservation International and other environment groups have been lobbying for funding to research the cause and prevention of the disease. According to Bat Conservation International, white-nose syndrome has claimed approximately over 1 million bats.

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