gear. Strict decontamination rules are required even of researchers and cavers who go into the caves for necessary work. New, scientifically designed steel cave gates are being constructed on a few important bat caves to protect against intruders while allowing bats to fly in and out.
So Far, So Good
During the winter of 2010–2011, Tony Elliott, Shelly Colatskie, and I (the Department’s bat and cave biologists) completed bat surveillance of 29 key caves and mines. So far, so good—we have not found outbreaks of WNS and the bats looked well. We sampled six bats for testing at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. (one gray, two little browns, one tri-colored, and two northern bats). One tricolored and two northern bats were sent for testing by Missouri State University scientists. The results for all nine were negative both for WNS infection and presence of the Gd fungus. We re-checked the caves where the first evidence of Gd was found in spring 2010, but the bats looked well.
We did air sampling for fungal spores in the sites with a Burkard air sampler, paid for by a private donor through the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. Our preliminary examination of the microscope slides showed almost no spores of any kind, except one sample that had a Gd-like spore.
So, we can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. Did the Gd fungus disappear in Missouri? I doubt that because we could only study 6 percent of the known bat caves, although they were important ones. Also, the disease moved into several new states, including western Tennessee and Kentucky by April 2011. Now WNS infections are only 55 miles from Missouri.
Restricted Access and Cave Management
People sometimes ask why decontamination is required to enter publicly owned caves. As a longstanding policy to help protect bats and the fragile and unique ecosystems found in caves, the Conservation Department and other agencies restrict access to many of their caves. Access to Conservation Department caves is permitted only if there is a “Restricted Access” sign posted at the entrance, or if a person has a special research permit. Disturbing bats in caves while they roost or hibernate could increase their stress and weaken their health.
Cleaning all caving gear with bleach or certain quaternary ammonium disinfectants reduces the risk of infecting new caves and bats. The microscopic spores have been found on some caving