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Vermont biologists observing dramatic loss of bat population

From the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

-- Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department biologists are monitoring bat populations as they return to caves and mines this fall, and they are discovering dramatic losses in bat numbers.

In a stunning reminder of the deadly effects of the bat disease called white-nose syndrome, department biologists, working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, observed on Sept. 10, what appears to be a near complete devastation of the bat population at the Elizabeth Mine in Strafford, Vermont.

“Once considered the second largest bat hibernacula in Vermont, and maybe New England, this mine appears to have lost nearly its entire bat population,” said Scott Darling, wildlife biologist for the department.  “The near absence of any bats during our annual survey was so astounding that I had to return a few nights later to confirm this tragedy.”

Since 2002, bat biologists have monitored bat activity at Elizabeth Mine every September when the bats swarm at the mine opening before they enter hibernation.  As recently as 2006, over 950 bats were captured by department biologists in a three-hour survey.  Two weeks ago, only one bat was captured in a survey using the same methods for two and a half hours. 

“While we fully expected the bat numbers at the site to be down, we did not expect the animals to be essentially gone,” added Darling.  “We can only hope that this is some anomaly and that these survey results do not represent the full extent of the disease’s impacts on this bat population.”

Bat populations throughout Vermont are affected with white-nose syndrome.  The disease, which has killed as much as 95 percent of hibernating bat populations in some caves and mines in Vermont, has spread throughout the Northeast and as far south as southwestern Virginia.  The disease was first noted at Elizabeth Mine in the late winter of 2008 when sick bats were observed flying from the mine during the daylight hours.  Elizabeth Mine also was the hibernation site of a large population of the state-threatened small-footed bat.

“The results at Elizabeth Mine are a wake-up call that this disease is having swift and dramatic effects on this region’s bat populations,” said Darling.  “The time to address this issue on a national level is now.”

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