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Save the bats: Officials seeking creative ideas to fight deadly disease for $100,000 prize

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    DELAWARE COUNTY, OK (KFOR) — As researchers continue to find a fungus that can be deadly to bats, officials are asking for innovative ways to combat the disease.

In 2017, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that a tricolored bat in Delaware County tested positive for white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York in the winter of 2006. Since then, the disease has spread west and resulted in the deaths of millions of bats.

“White-nose syndrome is considered one of the deadliest wildlife diseases, having killed over six million North American bats since it was discovered. The degree to which WNS has spread, including to my home state of South Dakota, is concerning,” said Kelly Hepler, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. “Fish and wildlife agencies and partner organizations are dedicated to finding ways to reduce the effects of WNS and improve the survival of bats.”

Experts say white-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, which grows on hibernating bats’ muzzles and wings. The fungus irritates them, causing them to wake at a time when insects are scarce. Since the bats cannot eat and are using stored energy, they often can’t survive the winter.

Bats can eat up to 3,000 insects, including mosquitoes and other pests, in a single night.

“Bats play an important role in native ecosystems by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and eating agricultural pests that destroy crops and harm the economy,” said David Bernhardt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. “Unfortunately, white-nose syndrome is destroying native bat populations at unprecedented rates. We need creative and innovative solutions to combat this deadly disease. I support the white-nose syndrome challenge and encourage the public to submit ideas. Together, we can save our nation’s bats while eradicating one of the most devastating wildlife diseases in North America.”

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking a unique approach to combating the disease.

The organization is offering a $100,000 award to individuals who can identify innovative ways to permanently eradicate, weaken or disarm the disease.

“The national response to white-nose syndrome has demonstrated we can be more innovative and impactful when we harness our collective expertise, knowledge and skills,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson. “The white-nose syndrome challenge is designed to tap into that collaborative energy to fight the fungus and help save America’s bats and the natural benefits they provide to people.”

The service will host a webinar from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 20 for the public to learn more about the guidelines, judging criteria and timeline for the competition. The deadline to enter is Dec. 31.

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