Threat of Bat Syndrome Closes Some Midwest Caves

May 8, 2009

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Almost all caves controlled by the state of Illinois could be closed to visitors later this year. The state's already taking steps to avoid a deadly syndrome affecting bats.

White-Nose Syndrome has been linked to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats in eastern states. Joe Kath is with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

KATH: It's not a matter of if we will get this, but just a matter of when it will arrive here.

Kath says little is known about the disease, but humans could be part of the problem.

KATH: For example, if they were to enter a cave and microscopic spores were to land on their caving gear, and then that day these individuals choose to enter another cave, it's possible, it's feasible that they may spread that fungus that way.

Kath says Illinois is currently discouraging people from visiting most of the state's caves. He says he'll recommend the state issue a formal ban by next winter, a step recently taken by Indiana officials and the U.S. Forest Service.

LOVAAS: I would say 99-percent of all cavers love bats.

John Lovaas is president of the Illinois Speleological Survey.

LOVAAS: There're a few cavers who might be afraid of them when they fly by or something. But there's this huge support for bats in the cavers' community. And, until we get more information, I think the general consensus is we have to stick with these guidelines.