Protecting bats at Maquoketa Caves - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Protecting bats at Maquoketa Caves

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MAQUOKETA (KWWL) -

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is taking some new precautions to protect the Iowa bat population.

It's all because of a bat disease that has been found at Maquoketa Caves.

White Nose Syndrome is a fungal disease that is deadly for bats.

This is the same bat disease responsible for the caves closing two years ago.

The fungus was first discovered in 2006 and that's when Iowa DNR officials learned how dangerous it was for bats.

They closed the Maquoketa Caves in 2010.

The caves reopened to the public this April with new safety measures in place to prevent the spread of the dangerous bat disease.

Now researchers says that of 15 bats tested at Maquoketa Caves, one was carrying low levels of the White Nose Syndrome.

The fungus can be easily spread just from going cave to cave.

It grows in the cave system and can cling on to clothing, shoes or caving gear and it's deadly for bats.

"They wake up.  They fall back asleep.  They wake up because of this irritant that's on them and through the duration of the whole hibernation cycle all those cycles of waking up, their metabolisms have jumped up they end up using too much of their food storage to survive through the whole hibernation period and they end up starving to death," DNR officer Scott Dykstra said.

So along with current prevention programs where cavegoers must listen to a 5-10 minute lesson on how to stop the transfer of the fungus.

The small detection of the White Nose Fungus has prompted new measures.

"We'll be putting in place some antifungal mats that people will walk through to disinfect their boots and stuff," Dykstra said.  "It's not going to disinfect their clothing, backpacks or helmets' flashlights, but we need to stress the importance of going home and doing those precautionary things."

Now this small detection does mean the dynamics will change here at the caves.

The antibacterial mats should be in place at the caves by Monday.

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