White Nose Syndrome is a fungal disease with the potential to wipe out vast numbers of bats in the United States.
However, not long ago, the first potentially positive piece of news came out on that front. Researchers for the first time released bats back into the wild after successfully treating them for WNS. Avery happy occasion considering the devastating effect this disease has on the world-wide population.
WNS has killed over 5.5 million bats in North America alone, with a mortality rate of one hundred percent in some sites, since it was first documented in New York in 2006.
"The bats are waking up for hibernation more often then they should and they don't have enough energy to make it through the winter. So this disease is basically causing them to wake up and essentially starve to death," explains Cynthia Sandeno of the U.S. Forest Service.
While many people may not think about bats as often as other animals that are visible during the day, they serve an important purpose not only for the ecosystem, but the economy. Bats provide between $3 to 23 billion worth of insect control to farmers alone.
"Bat Conservation International just did a study and they found that world-wide, bats provide over one billion dollars of pest services for the corn industry alone. So if you like corn, if you like ethanol, if you like candy made out of corn syrup or soft drinks - you should like bats," says Sandeno.
The U.S. Forest Service is one of many organizations keenly interested in the health of the nation’s bat population. Cynthia Sandeno is Regional Program Leader for Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive Species within the Eastern Region of the Forest Service, which is based in Milwaukee. She says that while there are improved numbers in the bat population, with more bats getting released after being treated for WNS, their survival is still far from certain.
"It's great that I'm here today versus a couple of years ago when it was all really gloom and doom, because there are some glimmers of hope. But it is still a very tenuous situation," Sandeno explains.