Townsend’s Big-eared Bat is one of the species counted during the BC Annual Bat Count. (Aimee Mitchell photo)

Fact: B.C. bats don’t carry or spread COVID

BC Annual Bat Count goes this summer, citizens encouraged to take part

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a negative spotlight on bats, due to concerns over BC bats carrying the virus. This association is a myth – bats in BC do not have or spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19. Misinformation such as this can lead to unfounded fear and persecution of bats.

In reality, bats are an essential part of our ecology, consuming many insect pests each night. Bats in BC suffer from many threats, and almost half of our 15 BC bat species are ‘at-risk’. One of the more familiar species, the Little Brown Myotis, is now Endangered in Canada.

A simple way to support bats is to participate in the BC Annual Bat Count this summer. The BC Community Bat Program is requesting colony reports and volunteer assistance for this citizen-science initiative that encourages residents to count bats at local roost sites.

Bat counts are easy, fun, and safe, not to mention vital for monitoring bat populations. “The counts are a wonderful way for people to get outside, respect social distancing guidelines, and be involved in collecting important scientific information” says Leigh Anne Isaac, Coordinating Biologist of the Kootenay Community Bat Program.

Volunteers wait outside a known roost site, such as a bat-box, barn, or attic, and count bats as they fly out at twilight. Ideally, 1 – 2 counts are done between June 1 and 21 before pups are born, and 1 – 2 more between July 11 and August 5 when pups are flying. Our target is to complete four counts during these two periods.

In 2019, the Annual Bat Count collected baseline data on bat populations at 337 sites across the province, and hopes to monitor these sites and more for 2020. The count data helps bat biologists understand where bats occur and how the size of colonies naturally vary before our bats face impacts from a devastating bat disease called White-nose Syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is an introduced fungal disease, fatal for bats but not for other animals or humans. Not yet identified in BC, the disease continues to spread in Washington State, less than 200 km from our border. Results from the Bat Count may help prioritize areas in BC for research into treatment options and recovery actions.

“We know relatively little about bats in BC, including basic information on population numbers” continues Isaac. “This information is more valuable than ever, particularly if it is collected annually. If people want to get involved but don’t have a roost site on their property, we will try to match them with a roost site nearby.”

Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program, and with support of the BC Conservation Foundation and the Province of BC, the Kootenay Community Bat Project provides information for people dealing with bat issues on their property or who have questions about how to attract bats.

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