Cori Lausen is in a race against time.
If she can track down bats in the remote Flathead River Valley of southeastern British Columbia, she may be able to find the caves where they hibernate. If she does, then she may also be able to halt the western spread of White Nose Syndrome, the deadly fungal disease that attacks the animals during their winter sleep.
Lausen, a bat specialist with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, says that although there is currently no way to stop the disease — which has contributed heavily to the endangerment of the brown myotis, northern myotis and tri-coloured bat in Eastern Canada — new biochemicals that have been shown to inhibit the growth of the fungus could give the bats a fighting chance. “If a petri dish full of these chemicals is placed near a petri dish with the fungi, it inhibits the fungi’s growth,” she says.
Although these biochemicals occur naturally on some bats’ wings, certain species may need a little help. Lausen thinks putting the substances in something like air-fresheners and hanging them in caves where bats hibernate could help the animals survive until the spring, when food is more plentiful and their immune systems can better fight White Nose Syndrome.
But her idea might not be as easy as it sounds. Although the Flathead River Valley has extensive karst formations that could contain bat caves — last summer Lausen and others found that the region is home to 10 of Canada’s 18 bat species — the area is so remote that it’s not logistically feasible to get there in winter.
To find where the bats hibernate, caves will have to be located during the summer, when devices that record the bats’ ultrasonic calls can be installed. Once that happens, Lausen and her colleagues can make a special effort to visit the caves in the winter to set up the biochemical air-fresheners. “That’s the only hope we have,” she says.