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Disease Deadly To Bats Spreads In Northeast U.S.

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Disease Deadly To Bats Spreads In Northeast U.S.

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Disease Deadly To Bats Spreads In Northeast U.S.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In another part of the country, scientists are trying to check the spread of a disease. It's called white-nose syndrome, and it could wipe out some species of bats in the Northeast. Brian Mann reports from North Country Public Radio.

BRIAN MANN: A little over three months have passed since researchers first confirmed that white-nose syndrome was infecting bats in Massachusetts, New York and Western Vermont, killing 90 percent of the animals in some caves. Biologist Susi von Oettingen with the US Fish and Wildlife Service said they've made little progress understanding the disease.

Ms. SUSI VON OETTINGEN (Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service): We are still in the dark with what this is.

MANN: Scientists were hoping that the outbreak would be limited to small pockets of remote caves. But a rash of newly infected sites - including caves in Connecticut - has killed much of that optimism. The fear, says von Oettingen, is that White Nose is spreading toward core habitats as far away as Ohio and Virginia, and could decimate crucial populations of endangered Indiana bats.

Ms. VON OETTINGEN: If we knew that it was an environmental factor that was unique to the Northeast, then maybe we wouldn't have to be concerned. But because we don't know, we really do have to watch those adjacent states very closely.

MANN: Scientists don't know that much about the diseases that affect bats. Some of the dying animals exhibit a crust of white fungus on their noses, but others simply look emaciated or disoriented. While researchers scramble to dissect hundreds of infected bat carcasses, volunteers have been enlisted to see if some of the ailing animals can be kept alive.

Ms. KATHY LARROW (Wildlife Rehabilitator): When we get the bats out, we have to weigh them. So we put them in a little dish.

MANN: (unintelligible)

Kathy Larrow is an amateur wildlife rehabilitator in Hudson Falls, New York, and hour outside of Albany. Sitting in a bedroom in her home that's been converted into a makeshift clinic, Larrow is preparing to feed a tiny bat.

Ms. LARROW: So we've got to get some extra food into him. They're all been tagged. But you sit here, and they should eat six to eight either mealworms or grubs.

MANN: Two of Larrow's bats have already died. Three others seem to be gaining strength. Environmentalists say volunteer efforts like this one are a sign that government agencies haven't moved fast enough to protect these animals, especially endangered Indiana bats. Despite the rapid spread of white-nose syndrome, the Fish and Wildlife Service still hasn't appointed a full-time staff person to coordinate the response. Earlier this month, a coalition of green groups threatened to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act if more isn't done.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in northern New York.

INSKEEP: I'm just downloading this video that shows an abandon mine in New York State where bats live and die mysteriously. You can get a look for yourself at npr.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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