Mammoth Cave National Park Tours Not Affected By White-Nose Syndrome

Underground tours at Mammoth Cave National Park have not been impacted by white-nose syndrome that has infected bat populations in other parts of the East. NPS photo.

White-nose syndrome continues to be a serious problem in many bat populations in eastern states. Fortunately, the disease has not appeared at Mammoth Cave National Park, and the underground tours are continuing as usual.

It was just more than a month ago when officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park closeed all their caves to the public to prevent the chance that humans might spread the disease from infected caves to those that haven't seen the disease.

While the Traveler reported back then that Mammoth Cave and its tours were not affected, recent calls to the park prompted Superintendent Patrick Reed this week to announce that white-nose syndrome has not been reported at Mammoth Cave or anywhere else in Kentucky.

“We want the public to know that the park is open and we are taking visitors on tours of Mammoth Cave,” said Superintendent Reed. “(White-nose syndrome) is not known to pose a health risk to humans, but it poses a great risk to many bat species. We are very concerned about the populations of bats that live in or frequent the park’s 350 caves, and we are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish procedures that will protect them.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cave Advisory, issued in late March, states in part: “…At this time, the evidence is lacking to recommend the closure of commercial sites that offer cave tours to the general public…we will be working with the owners and operators of commercial caves to help them employ methods to minimize the potential for contaminated materials from entering or leaving their sites.”

For more information on WNS, check out the USFWS website on the disease.

Comments

Weren't all the caves in the Smokies already closed to the public and cavers.

Yes, the Smokies' caves were closed about a month ago.

You can find that story by clicking here.

The U. S. Forest Service has recently taken action as well.

On April 24, 2009, the U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region Deputy Regional Forester signed an emergency closure order for all caves and mines on NFS lands in the Eastern Region in response to white nose syndrome.

The USFS Eastern Region covers: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Forest Service officials are very concerned about the spread of White-nose Syndrome, a malady of unknown origin that has led to the death of nearly 500,000 bats in the New England and Mid-Atlantic States. There is evidence to suggest that human visitors to infected caves can inadvertently transfer White-nose Syndrome to clean caves and mines. To help slow the spread of White-nose Syndrome to other areas of the United States, the Forest Service has joined with other agencies and caving organizations to temporarily close caves and mines on National Forests in the Eastern and Southern Regions.

The USFS Southern Region website is currently being overhauled and is not current, so I couldn't verify the above information that the emergency closure order also applies to caves on USFS land in that area. The USFS Southern Region encompasses 13 States—from Virginia to Florida and Oklahoma – as well as Puerto Rico.

A key question is how effective these closures will be, since enforcement relies to a large extent on voluntary compliance, but all officials can do is try.