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White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is an emerging disease concern in bats in eastern North America. No one knows the exact cause of the problem, but affected bats are often found with a ring of white fungus on the face and wings. Recent evidence suggests the fungus is affecting the bat immune system and interfering with hibernation. Hibernating bats die when they run out of energy.
Hibernating bats of various species are found dying or dead in large numbers in or near caves and mines. Often, up to 100% of the bats in a cave have died in one winter.
WNS continues to spread. It is now known to occur widely throughout eastern Canada and the USA and continues its westward expansion.
For more information on this disease, see:
Stopping the spread
The disease has not (yet) been identified in hibernacula in Alberta; however, anyone visiting any caves - particularly those in eastern North America - should be aware of basic precautions to avoid spreading White-nose to new sites, and especially avoid bringing it to Alberta.
There is a growing body of internet-accessible information about white-nose syndrome, including:
- cave closures
- disinfection protocols for clothing and equipment used in bat-related activities or in caves and mines
- recommended precautions, and what to do if you see dead bats or bats with white noses
Anyone intending to visit potential bat hibernacula is encouraged to be well informed before visiting such sites.
In March 2016 the concerns and precautions were summarized in a revised cave advisory
Preventative measures in Alberta
In Alberta, we are being proactive in informing the public about the concerns and in limiting the potential for human transfer of the fungus. In the summer of 2010, the Government of Alberta temporarily restricted public access to known bat hibernacula on provincial lands as a measure to protect the bats.
Similarly, in 2014 a cooperative effort among Alberta and British Columbia government staff, along with input from Alberta and BC caving groups, Parks Canada, Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre, and US Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in guidelines for limiting the potential transfer of WNS during caving activities in western Canada.
Following 5 years of temporary access restriction to Cadomin and Wapiabi caves, the primary known bat hibernacula in Alberta, the situation was reviewed in 2015. Much has been learned about the fungus and about white-nose syndrome; however, the risk to bat populations remains significant and access restrictions were extended for another 5 year period, or less if there is definitive evidence to support re-opening or limited use of closed caves.
Until further notice Cadomin Cave (south of Hinton) and Wapiabi Cave (north of Nordegg) are CLOSED to the public.
We also have amended the provincial standards for bat handling procedures in Alberta. See the 'Addendum to class protocol #4: Bat Capture, Handling and Release', at:
Informational posters have been placed at the trailhead access for Cadomin and Wapiabi caves. See:
- Death in the Caves Poster – Cadomin Cave (PDF, 377 KB)
- Death in the Caves Poster – Wapiabi Cave (PDF, 374 KB)
The Cadomin and Wapiabi caves have been closed until further notice to prevent spread of WNS.
- Province extends closures of Cadomin and Wapiabi Caves to protect Alberta bats
- Cave closed to reduce risk of bat disease spreading to Alberta
- Risk of deadly bat disease spreading to Alberta closes popular cave
- Bat management – Overview
General information about Alberta's bat species.
- White-nose Syndrome
Primary online source of information about white-nose syndrome.
- White-Nose Syndrome in Canada
Information from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.
- White-Nose Syndrome Surveillance
Information from the United States Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center.