Canada funds white-nose syndrome in bats

Environment Canada is providing the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (CCWHC) with an additional $330,000 in funding over the next four years to respond to the threat of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is threatening bat species in North America.

“We take our role in protecting and conserving species in Canada very seriously,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent in a news release.

“By providing for national co-ordination of Canada’s response to the disease, we will be able to maximize the contributions of our provincial, territorial and private sector partners, as well as ensure consistency in our approach.”

WNS is an emerging disease of hibernating bats that’s associated with a skin infection caused by the fungus Geomyces destructans (Gd). The fungus grows in the skin of the bat, producing a white residue on the muzzle, wings and ears.

WNS has led to serious declines in bat populations throughout Eastern Canada and the eastern United States. More than 5.5 million bats are estimated to have died so far.

The new contribution agreement will facilitate national co-ordination, surveillance and response to the danger posed by WNS to bat species in Canada.

National co-ordination will ensure efficient and effective use of resources in areas such as disease surveillance, reducing rates of transmission, public communication and research into appropriate conservation actions. It will also help to facilitate information exchange with similar interests in the United States.

Earlier this year, Environment Canada awarded an initial amount of $50,000 to the CCWHC to support surveillance and related activities associated with WNS. The CCWHC, whose headquarters are located in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan, has extensive knowledge and expertise in the field of national wildlife disease issues and is set up for working with wildlife disease experts across all jurisdictions of Canada.

Dr. Trent Bollinger, regional director of the CCWHC’s western/northern region and a WCVM veterinary pathologist, is part of a national research team whose recent findings suggest that North American bats are dying from a European strain of fungus recently introduced to Canada and the U.S.

The team’s research findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2012.

Locations in Canada where bats are known to have been exposed to the fungus for two years or more have experienced declines of over 94 per cent with some as high as 99 per cent. The three bat species that are affected are the little brown myotis (also called little brown bat), the tri-coloured bat (formerly called eastern pipistrelle) and the northern myotis (also called northern long-eared bat).

Read the original Environment Canada news release.