White-nose syndrome, a fungal infection that poses a threat to several bat species in Saskatchewan, has been found in Grassland National Park. The park is located around 250 kilometres southwest of Weyburn.
“This is disheartening news for us,” said Iga Stasiak, a provincial wildlife health specialist with the Ministry of Environment. “We expected that we likely would detect the fungus at some point. This is a fungal infection that has devastated bat populations across North America.”
The disease was first found in New York in 2006 and has been slowly spreading west over the years. This is the westernmost detection of a bat infected with white-nose syndrome.
Stasiak said that there are some things that people can do when moving through areas that are frequented by bats, including caves. This includes things such as using designated boots and washing footwear when moving from infected areas to non-infected areas.
"This is a fungus that is specific to bats, so only bats are infected and develop disease from this fungal infection,” Stasiak added. The infection causes growth on the skin and wings of a bat. It also makes it difficult for hibernation, with the bats going out to forage for food during the winter. With no food source such as insects available, they starve to death.
Surveillance can also help. Stasiak pointed out that people can report bat roosts on the website batwatch.ca. From there, it can help to ensure habitat for bats, particularly endangered species of bat such as the little brown bat, and the northern long-eared bat.