Photo by Ann Froschauer.
Entry into caves or mine shafts in the national park is prohibited.
This closure has been initiated due to recommendations issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 5,700,000 bats have died from white-nose syndrome, and many more bats are at immediate risk.
Wildlife managers are concerned about the outbreak because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate during winter months. This behavior increases the potential that the disease will spread among hibernating bats. In addition, hibernating bats disperse in spring and migrate, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to spend the summer.
Most bats affected to date are little brown bats, but the fungus has also been found on endangered Indiana bats, raising concerns about the impacts on a species already at risk. Other affected bat species include the eastern pipistrelle and northern long-eared bat.
Researchers are trying to determine if the fungus itself is responsible for the deaths or if its presence is symptomatic of another problem.
Did You Know?
An experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park was begun in 2001. Elk once roamed the Smokies, but were eliminated from the region in the mid 1800s by over-hunting and loss of habitat. Other animals successfully reintroduced to the park include river otters and barn owls. More...