Two of Nation's Most Treasured National Parks — Acadia and Great Smoky Mountains — Stricken by Bat-killing Epidemic

For Immediate Release

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Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Two of Nation's Most Treasured National Parks — Acadia and Great Smoky Mountains — Stricken by Bat-killing Epidemic

GATLINBURG, Tenn. - The National Park Service announced today that white-nose syndrome, an emergent infectious disease that has killed nearly 7 million bats in North America, has been confirmed in two of its most popular units: Acadia National Park in Maine and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. Together these two parks host more than 11 million visitors each year who come, among other reasons, to view the diverse wildlife and natural beauty of some of America’s most intact natural landscapes. White-nose syndrome has previously been documented at other Park Service units, including Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey, in 2009, and Russell Cave National Monument in Alabama, where the disease was confirmed just last week.

“Discovery of white-nose syndrome at two of our leading national parks is particularly troubling because of the vital role these parks play in safeguarding wildlife and plant populations,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

These latest announcements serve as further evidence that the bat illness, first documented in bats in upstate New York in 2006, is not slowing its lethal assault on bats throughout the eastern United States. In some places where the disease takes hold, it has a 100 percent mortality rate.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also announced today that white-nose syndrome has been found in five new counties in Indiana, where the malady was first discovered last year, and two new counties in Pennsylvania, where bat colonies across the state have been devastated after the syndrome was initially found there in the winter of 2008-2009.

Earlier this winter, federal officials estimated that nearly 7 million bats have died so far from the fast-spreading fungal disease. White-nose syndrome is now confirmed in 17 states and suspected in another three; it is also confirmed in four Canadian provinces.

“This disease is filling in the map like a horrible paint-by-numbers project,” said Matteson. “The rapid spread of white-nose syndrome in Indiana is especially troubling, because that state hosts the majority of hibernating Indiana bats in the country.”

The Indiana bat is a federally listed endangered species, and has declined by 70 percent in the northeastern portion of its range. White-nose syndrome first arrived in the Midwest last winter, and has been showing up in numerous new counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana this year.

Six species of bat have been lethally affected by white-nose syndrome to date. Another three species, including the federally endangered gray bat, have been documented with the white-nose fungus on them. Biologists are deeply concerned that the bat disease may soon show up in the American West; the fungus was found on a nonsymptomatic bat in a cave in western Oklahoma in 2010. Scientists have determined that the disease is caused by a previously unknown fungus, likely introduced by cave visitors from Europe. In Europe the fungus has been discovered on bats in several countries, but it appears to do little to no harm to them. 

“Left unchecked, this disease could wipe out several species of bats,” said Matteson. “This would not only be a tragedy for those species but would have ripple effects on us — because we depend on the insect-control services bats provide by eating thousands of tons of insects every year, including those that attack farmers’ crops.”

For more information, visit SaveOurBats.org.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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