Hikers say the caves at Devil's Den State Park are a main attraction, but they've been closed since 2010. Joshua Johnson says, "I think it's good that they're closing the caves to protect the bats."
Park interpreter Rebekah Penny says caves are blocked off as a precaution. White Nose Syndrome is a deadly disease affecting bats throughout the country with cases confirmed in 17 states. She says, "It was believed to have killed a million bats until this week, they've upped that number to up to six to seven million."
Penny says rangers believe the fungus was transferred from Europe to the U.S. by a caver in 2006 and it's spread ever since. Penny says, "It uses the bats as a host. Right now, we don't know if it's waking them up during hibernation when they should be in that very deep sleep and that's causing them to starve to death or whether it is the fungal spores actually feeding on the bats."
Rangers say Devil's Den State Park has more than 1,000 bats in its caves including five different species, two of which are endangered. So far, she says Devil's Den bats appear to be unaffected. But as a precaution, the caves will remain closed. Penny says, "To lose our bats, no matter what your feeling on these little flying mammals, is going to be a huge ripple down effect on our ecosystem."
Without bats hunting insects that attack food crops, penny says farmers may have to start using more pesticides which they'll eventually feel in their pocket books.