Caves Close to Prevent Spread of Bat-Killing Fungus
Officials are worried about the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that makes it hard for bats to hibernate come winter. Many bats die of starvation looking for food during those months they are normally sleeping.
"It's not dangerous for humans, but we would like to protect the bat colonies we have. The bats are a natural resource and a benefit to the environment," DNR spokesperson Judd Slivka said. "The restriction on going into caves is really about making sure the fungus doesn't spread from a place where it exists to a place where it doesn't and it affects more bats."
The fungus was recently discovered in a private cave in Pike County in northeastern Missouri.
"It hasn't been found in any of our state park caves. We've closed these as a precaution. We think this is one of those situations where an ounce of precaution is probably worth a couple hundred pounds of cure," Slivka said. "The fungus was first found in New York in 2006 and Missouri is the 12th state that White-Nose Syndrome has been found in."
The DNR has closed 110 "wild" caves until at least July 15, when officials will check to see if the fungus has spread.
However, popular tour caves like Onondaga Cave and Cathedra Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park, Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park and Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park, will remain open.
"Our most popular caves, our commercial caves have not closed. It's the wild caves that have closed. You can see those commercial operated caves are still open, so you can still get your cave fix, you just can't spelunk in our wild caves," Slivka said.
Other caves will only open to school tours.
"Connors Cave, which is adjacent to Devils Icebox, is going to be open for educational tours, but before the tour they will ask if anyone has been in a cave in the eastern United States," Slivka said. "The other caves at Rock Bridge are very much going to be closed, as most of our caves are."