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Bat blitz underway in urgent call to save animals

OSOYOOS — An intense campaign is underway in the Okanagan to prevent a deadly disease, killing millions of bats in North America, from spreading to this province. A group of biologists is in the south Okanagan trying to capture and learn about the nocturnal creatures before the disease threatens the bat population.

“We have an incredible sense of urgency to learn about these animals: where they are, how many, how are they doing. Everyone is operating under the idea that white-nose syndrome will get here and the results will potentially be devastating,” says Leigh Anne Issac, a wildlife biologist with VAST Resource Solutions.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a deadly fungal disease that’s already wiped out at least six million bats since it was first detected nine years ago in the New York area.

WNS affects bats while they’re in hibernation, shutting down their immune systems while they are most vulnerable.

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Researchers believe WNS is spreading west.

“I think we have about 26 states now and five Canadian provinces that have it confirmed. So it has just spread from that single point very quickly and we don’t know what’s going to happen once it gets to prairies,” says Cori Lausen, a biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

There is little known about bats in B.C., so Nature Conservancy Canada has set up a four night survey it calls a “Bat Blitz,” hoping to shed light on the nocturnal creatures.

Twenty-seven biologists from around B.C. and Alberta are studying the bats in the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area near Osoyoos.

As a result of the blitz, 70 bats ranging from 11 different species were captured and quickly studied before being released. Some of the animals are at-risk and even some endangered.

Bats help control the pest population and play a critical role in our ecology system, that’s why preserving the population is becoming priority.

Promising research is being done in Missouri right now. A cure for the devastating disease may be on the horizon.

“Recent research suggests that a type of bacteria naturally in North America appears to inhibit the growth of fungus causing the deadly WNS. Although very promising, it is too soon to tell what the potential treatment will mean for B.C. bats,” says Issac.

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Biologists want to learn more about the healthy bat population before the devastating disease makes a potential impact.