Australia is currently free of the white nose fungus. This fungus has devastated cave-dwelling bat populations in the eastern USA and Canada and has been spreading westwards for 10 years. These bats were susceptible to the fungus as they had never experienced it before.

The disease is seen in hibernating cave bat populations of a number of different genera as the fungus grows and produces its disease effects at temperatures below 15ºC. The infection is spread by bats as they migrate to other roosting caves or mines but equally can be transported by cave visitors to other sites.

Cavers in the US are largely blamed for the spread of this fungus.

While Tasmania is not known to have cave dwelling bats and the cave temperatures are well below the average temperatures of the caves affected, we do have cavers visiting from areas which do and also have critically endangered bats. So while we are not at a direct risk we do not want to be involved in the spread of this or other yet unknown invasive and damaging species.

For this reason we appeal to all cavers travelling between different caving regions (including with in Australia) to embrace harm minimisation practices and ensure all caving gear is thoroughly cleaned before travelling and where appropriate use sterilisation/decontamination techniques.

Travelling within Australia

Many invasive species can be transported with dirt and mud, from fresh water exposure and seeds and spores.

Before travelling between caving regions it is good practice to thoroughly clean all potentially contaminated gear. Warm soapy water and/or scrubbing brush and/or pressure cleaner may also be used. For delicate items wipe thoroughly with a damp cloth.

International Travel

We know Australians love to travel, so any clothing or equipment that has been in a cave outside of Australia should be thoroughly cleaned before returning to Australia and then undergo decontamination before caving.

  • Clean any dirty personal cave clothing or equipment before disinfection.
  • Separate submersibles which should include cave packs, ropes and harnesses from delicate gear (lights, compasses, cameras etc.).
  • Don’t forget to wash knee and elbow pads.
  • Use a washing machine set to 60°C (140°F) for 20 min.
  • For boots that are not suitable for washing machine treatment they must be scrubbed to remove all mud and dirt and then sterilised.

Alternatively sterilisation: use 6% hydrogen peroxide spray or isopropanol disinfectant wipes.

Studies have been done and shown that these treatments have minimal impact on specialist safety equipment such as ropes and harnesses.

What you can do

  1. When moving from different caving areas it is important that all gear is washed thoroughly.
  2. To prevent fungal transfer it is also vital to ensure all gear is thoroughly dry after washing.

References:

http://www.agriculture.gov.au/pests-diseases-weeds/animal/white-nose-syndrome

https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/topics/decontamination

Australian white nose syndrome assessments and procedures.

Some Australian press coverage re the White Nose threat to Australian bats. 

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