I admit, before last summer I had never cared much about bats. I didn’t think they were cute or of much use or interest, but then I met Rob Mies director of the Organization for Bat Conservation and his rehabilitated bats during an event at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
I learned that bats make up a large part of the world’s ecosystem, in fact, a quarter of all mammal species are a type of bat! I learned that they are intelligent and affectionate creatures and actually kind of cute when you get past all the misconceptions about rabies and blood drinking.
The truth is humans would have a really hard time of it if it weren’t for bats controlling the insect population, reseeding deforested land, and pollinating plants, many of which we eat.
I also learned that bats are in trouble and as usual, it’s pretty much our fault.
Like all animals in the world human encroachment, habitat destruction, pesticides, and climate change are affecting bats, but more than that scientist believe that we humans brought a plague down upon bats in the form of White-nose syndrome.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destruction) native to Europe and Asia. Bats there are largely unaffected by it, but here in America, the fungus grows on a bat’s wings and noses causing them to wake up during winter hibernation and either starve or freeze to death. The fungus is decimating colonies and killing by the thousands with no cure and no signs of slowing.
Once White-nose syndrome hits a bat colony up to 70%-90% of the bats roosting there will die. In some cases, the kill rate has been 100%, and scientist now warns that entire species may go extinct as the fungus makes a slow march across the country from the east coast to the west.
We don’t know everything about bats, but we do know they do not cross oceans, but people do. It is believed that humans brought back this fungus from Europe and introduced it to colonies here through cave exploration.
Seven species are affected, three of which are now on the (including three on the federal endangered species list. Kill estimates are as high as Tens of millions of bats since 2006 when the fungus was first recognized here. The disease moves so fast and kills so efficiently that it’s considered the worst wildlife disease outbreak in North American history.
So, why should you care? Remember a few years ago when we were all in a panic of bee colony collapse syndrome, well it turns out the bees are bouncing back, but they aren’t the only one’s who save farmers, corporations, consumers, and the U.S. government billions of dollars a year.
Back in 2008, the Forest Service estimated that due to White-nose syndrome and the deaths of around a million bats, 2.4 million pounds of insects went uneaten and free to damage crops and spread disease. They also provide pollination and seed spreading service, for free. All we have to do is respect them and keep them safe. We had one job….
So, how can you help? First of all, stop going into caves. Just stop. Saving these creatures is more important than your need to explore. If you have to please do so with trained professionals and observe proper decontamination protocols when you leave. Respect caves and mines that are closed, they are for a reason.
Take some time to learn what you can about your own local bat species types and habits, then spread the word. Consider setting up your own bat house.
And finally, don’t let your government slash budgets for programs that study, protect, and benefit the environment. Bats, like most animals, need to be protected from us and it’s important that we allow the government to do what we can’t, keep us out of their habitats.
We need local parks and protected caves that we can’t go trampling in or building on whenever we want to. Call your local representative and you leaders in Congress, or send a fax by text, and let them know that humans are awful and out of control and for that reason, we need our parks and our scientists to keep the world safe before there is no other life to protect anymore.