Road-tripping British Columbians may be known to pick up the occasional hitchhiker, but there’s one fuzzy passenger the province is asking them to avoid.
Officials with the Ministry of Environment are asking the public to double check and make sure they aren’t bringing home any stowaway bats when returning from summer vacation.
“Little brown bats, and other bat species, sometimes hide in nooks and crannies of trailers, campers, umbrellas, trucks and other vehicles, and inadvertently take a ride hundreds or thousands of kilometres from home,” reads a media release from the ministry.
The ministry says not only is an unexpected road trip bad news for the bats themselves, they may carry “white-nose syndrome,” an incurable disease that can decimate local bat populations.
White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has been documented to wipe out between 80 and 100 per cent of the populations of bat colonies. It has killed more than six million bats in eastern North America since 2006.
The disease grows over bats’ faces during hibernation, and kills them in several ways, either through wing damage, respiratory problems, or starvation and dehydration.
A single case of the disease turned up in Washington state in 2016, and the ministry says it has yet to see any in B.C.
While white-nose syndrome is not harmful to humans or pets, officials say they are concerned British Columbians on vacation to the east or south of the border could inadvertently bring infected bats home with them, thus spreading the disease to indigenous populations.
Beyond the environmental damage, that could spell bad news for the agricultural sector. Bats have a voracious appetite for insects, and according to ministry provide “billions of dollars in pest control services annually in North America.”
Vacationing British Columbians are being asked to check anywhere a bat might stow away, including inside closed umbrellas, awnings and gear racks. Railway workers and truck drivers are also being asked to be doubly vigilant while inspecting trailers and shipping containers.
If you do find a bat, the ministry says do not touch it with your bare hands, as a small percentage of the animals carry rabies.
Instead, use thick gloves, oven mitts, a towel or a broom to nudge it into a container and release it. If you are scratched, wash the area with soapy water immediately and see a doctor.
Anyone who does discover a bat that has hitched a ride home from vacation is asked to call the B.C. Wildlife Health Program at Program (250 751-3219 or 250 751-3234) or the the BC Community Bat Program (1 855 922-2287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.