Alberta Environment and Parks has added two bat species to the province’s list of endangered animals.
Northern myotis and little brown myotis are now listed as endangered. Lisa Wilkinson, a provincial bat specialist at Alberta Environment, says the designation is a preemptive effort to keep white nose syndrome, a fungus that is deadly to bats, out of Alberta caves.
White nose syndrome, found in cold places like caves, has recently been detected in Saskatchewan.
“Researchers quickly realized that this fungus irritates the bats, causes them to arouse from hibernation … they’re awake with nothing to eat and essentially they starve to death,” Wilkinson said.
She said the province took steps to close caves that were readily accessible to humans in order to curb people potentially bringing in the disease on their gear or clothing.
Bats only have about one pup a year, and they often don’t survive the winter, Wilkinson said, which means it’s difficult for bat populations to recover once they start to decline.
Many of Alberta’s bats roost in trees and under rock ledges, but the province’s spelunking community wants to keep caves fungus-free.
Katie Graham, President of the Alberta Speleological Society, says cavers in Alberta should know how to prevent the spread of white nose syndrome.
“We continue to decontaminate. We’re not visiting caves that are hibernacula [area where animals overwinter], and then we’re looking for bats when we go into new places,” she said.
Alberta Environment issued new status assessments for Arctic grayling and prairie falcon, which have been re-confirmed as special concern; the brassy minnow is now considered threatened.
The province will also be implementing Alberta species at risk recovery plans for the peregrine falcon, pygmy whitefish, western grebe and a plant, slender mouse-ear-cress.