DELAWARE CITY (May 2, 2012) – When Fort Delaware State Park reopens for tours on May 5, visitors will make the boat trip from the Delaware City dock to the pier on Pea Patch Island to learn about the fort’s Civil War history, get spooked on its popular ghost tours and check out the island’s heron rookery. This season, visitors will also learn about the fort’s seldom-seen bats and what they can do to help prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS), an illness that has affected millions of bats in eastern North America and that was recently found in the island’s bat population.
Since its discovery in 2006, WNS has killed an estimated 5.7 to 6.7 million bats from Canada to Indiana to Alabama, and it continues to spread. Characterized by a white fungus visible on the noses, wings, tails and ears of bats, WNS thrives in cold temperatures and is found mainly in areas with caves and mines where bats hibernate. Although Delaware does not have caves or mines, the cave-like conditions at the fort provide the right temperature and humidity levels for bats to hibernate and for the fungus to survive. The illness is transmitted primarily by contact between bats, but people can hasten its spread by unknowingly carrying WNS spores from an affected area to an unaffected area.
“Although WNS has posed no threat to humans or animals other than certain species of bats, microscopic WNS spores can easily hitch a ride on shoes, clothing, cameras and backpacks from the fort to areas where unaffected bats reside,” said DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Holly Niederriter. “Because of this, we need to educate visitors to Fort Delaware about the presence of WNS and how they can help prevent spreading it to other bat populations.”
Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation staff and Division of Fish and Wildlife biologists have created a plan that minimizes visitor contact with WNS spores while they enjoy Fort Delaware’s popular programs. “We feel it will help protect bat populations with a minimum disruption to visitors enjoying all the interesting and exciting aspects of touring Fort Delaware,” said Matthew Ritter, Delaware State Parks Chief of Programming. “It’s also a good opportunity to do a little education on wildlife and good stewardship.”
Guidelines for visitors that can help prevent the spread of WNS to other sites with bats include:
·Wear closed-toed shoes while visiting the fort.
·Before leaving the fort, wipe your feet to remove loose dirt and stand briefly on wet “bat-mats” to clean and disinfect shoes.
·While touring the fort, follow rules and directions provided by Parks staff and please don’t hesitate to ask any questions.