White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease, is decimating the bat population in the eastern United States. Since it was first noticed in 2006, it has killed millions of bats.
One conservation group, the Nature Conservancy, has decided to take action by setting up a refugee bat cave, building a massive concrete bunker underground in Tennessee. Normally, hibernating bats take their winter’s rest in natural caves, but the disease has turned these caves into virtual killing fields as the contagion sweeps through.
The New York Times profiled the project:
In Tennessee, a state with 10,000 caves and 16 species of bats, about half of them hibernating, Bellamy is something special. It is the winter home, or hibernaculum, to 270,000 gray bats, listed as endangered partly because the entire species hibernates in only nine caves, three of those in Tennessee. “This is a species that could wink out in a few years,” Mr. Holliday said.
So he and the Nature Conservancy decided it was time to dig in, literally. They built an artificial cave, roughly 80 feet long and 16 feet wide, with 11-foot ceilings. Completed this month, and buried under four feet of earth, it lies on a slope about 100 yards from Bellamy Cave’s entrance.
The conservancy is betting $300,000 in private funds (some still to be raised) on the cave, a concrete bunker equipped with cameras and a temperature monitor. Most important, it can be scoured each spring after the bats leave, something that cannot be done in the complex ecosystem of a natural cave.
Scientists hope that by cleaning the cave, they can eradicate the fungus before it gets entrenched in the cave, preventing the kinds of massive bat kills that have occurred in the past. But first they have to persuade the bats to move in.
In an NPR interview Holliday said that he hoped to eventually have as many as 200,000 bats living in the artificial cave. He plans to tempt them to visit by using “ultrasonic bat calls from around the entrance area”
In a video made for the Nature Conservancy, Holliday mentions why we should be pulling for the bats:
“Bats are kind of an underdog. It’s the classic American fighter story, everyone wants to root for the underdog, and they need a little help right now.”
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