White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a disease which affects cave dwelling bats, caused by the fungus pseudogymnoascus
It was first documented in the U.S. in 2007 and had spread to Missouri by 2010.
Since 2010 it has continued to spread across the state.
With the presence of WNS it is recommended that anyone entering a cave follows the most current decontamination protocol.
WNS attacks bats' immune systems and causes them to expend needed fat reserves during their winter hibernation period.
In the American Northeast some infected sites have seen nearly 100 % mortality.
Annual census work in Missouri as well as casual observations have both shown a decline in specific bat species within Missouri since WNS first arrived.
Following recommendations from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service state and federal agencies closed nearly all publicly owned caves with the emergence of WNS in Missouri.
This was a response to the fear that humans could inadvertantly spread the disease by carrying fungal spores on their clothing and equipment. While there is the possibility that this could occur nearly all research today suggests that the disease is spread from bat to bat.
With that in mind however, it is important to minimize disturbance during hibernation period as any additional stress could be devastating to infected bats.
Organized caving has been severly impacted by WNS and WNS policies.
Publicly owned caves make up approximately 1/3 of the known caves in Missouri. These are typically the caves which have been most accessible to cavers and cave researchers. So, with the closing of publicly owned caves many cavers and aspiring cavers have had difficulties learning about and experiencing the underground.
In Missouri and some other parts of the country, organizations comprised of project cavers have sustained limited cave access on much, though not all public lands. These trips however are typically scientific in nature, whether it be mapping or biological monitoring or for management purposes such as documenting use and abuse of the resource.
The Missouri caving community needs a continuous revitalization of new cavers interested in discovering, documenting and helping protect the Missouri underground.
While WNS has made this difficult, there are still cave trips happening all across the state and there are still great opportunities for those willing to get involved and contribute.
WNS has sadly been killing cave dwelling bats in Missouri and across the U.S., lets hope that it doesn't kill organized caving.
Contact us to get involved.