By Merin Tuttle
Amid media announcements that the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats has spread to California, and growing public concern, The Wildlife Society announced the most recent attempt to find a cure. On July 9, an article titled “Bacteria treatment helps bats survive white-nose syndrome,” suggested progress toward a cure. However, there is no evidence that human intervention can slow the spread or cure the disease. As I’ve reported, the best available studies from the Northeast indicate that population recovery at key sites is exceeding expectations, and that a cure is unnecessary, impractical to implement, and risks unintended negative consequences.
Several treatments appear to be effective in countering the infection in captive bats. However, when released the bats remain susceptible to reinfection and death. By releasing such bats near the end of the cycle, when only those with greatest genetic resistance remain, we would risk diluting the remaining gene pool, reducing the odds of survival, just the opposite of the intended goal.
Given the odds of unintended consequences, it may be fortunate that effective implementation of a cure in wild bat populations is so logistically hopeless as to be virtually inconceivable. We must not put funding opportunities ahead of bat needs. Finally, during this time of extreme stress, it is urgent that we recognize the importance of avoiding hibernation disturbance regardless of good intentions. I urge a reallocation of resources from cure-hunting to habitat restoration and protection, beginning with the most important hibernation sites.
I have shared my response with the The Wildlife Society and encourage others to politely do the same.