Feb. 16, 2013 —
The fatal bat disease white-nose syndrome has spread to Carter Caves State Resort Park.
Officials confirmed Thursday that bats collected from three caves inside the park were infected with the deadly fungal disease that has been spreading rapidly across the U.S. since its discovery in 2006, killing millions of the insect-eating mammals.
Nearly 40,000 endangered Indiana Bats hibernate annually in Carter Caves, representing half of those in Kentucky, park officials say.
Bats at Kingdom Come State Park Nature Preserve in Letcher County at Mammoth Cave National Park also tested positive for the disease in January. The disease has now spread across the commonwealth, having been found in 10 counties at 25 different sites.
Carter Caves Park Naturalist Coy Ainsley called the news terrible. “We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” he said.
Infected bats were found inside three of the park’s caves — Bat, Saltpetre and Laurel Caves — by wildlife officials who completed a routine biannual count of hibernating bats, Ainsley said.
The park had closed these caves more than four years ago in an effort to stop the spread of the fungus. The popular Crawl-A-Thon event, which revolved around underground cave tours, was transformed into the Winter Adventure Weekend as a result. In 2011, Kentucky State Parks began requiring guests who take tours in two caves at Carter Caves that remained open, Cascade and X Cave, to disinfect their footwear and not to wear clothing that has been worn in other caves. Ainsley said those precautions would continue.
White-nose syndrome has no known cure and is believed to be spread by infected bats. It’s named for the appearance of a white fungus that grows on the muzzle and other body parts of hibernating bats. The disease disrupts their hibernation and leads to starvation or dehydration.