Maquoketa Caves Bat Tests Positive for White Nose Syndrome

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A low level of the fungus known to cause White Nose Syndrome in bats has been found in Iowa's Maquoketa Caves State Park.

For years Iowa wildlife experts have feared white nose syndrome would make its way to the caves. Those fears closed the Maquoketa Caves for more than a year, and early this spring park rangers tested 15 bats for the fungus.

"One bat came up positive with a low-level of white nose syndrome," says park ranger Scott Dykstra.

The park re-opened to the public on April 14th of this year. But now everyone going into the caves must first sit through a brief seminar on white nose syndrome.

Dykstra says he's glad to be open again, though he's not sure what the newly discovered low-level of fungus means for the future of his park. He says the worst-case scenario would be if the caves are shut down once again.

"The campground wasn't full, parking lots were almost no vehicles in it, the park was like a ghost town," explains Dysktra.

He adds an estimated 400-600 bats call the Maquoketa Caves home during winter months.

Cavers of all ages are still being allowed in, but many are now wondering how long that will last.

White nose syndrome is making its way westward across the country and wildlife experts are fearful the bats here in Maquoketa Caves could be the first victims in Iowa.

So far this year the caves have had more than 10,000 people pass view the newly required white nose syndrome class. This may seem like much ado about nothing, but bats surprisingly have a large impact on our economy.

"Bats save us about three billion dollars a year in agricultural and pest control. So that's a huge dollar amount when we're looking at pest control," says Dykstra.

The fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome is not harmful to humans, but it's believed humans help the fungus travel from place to place.

The Maquoketa Caves State Park will have disinfectant stations for anyone going into and out of the caves up and running by the end of the month.