Protecting Australian bats earns national award

March 2018

Australian bats are better protected against a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, thanks to a team effort coordinated by veterinarian Dr Keren Cox-Witton of Wildlife Health Australia.

Dr Cox-Witton’s tireless work was recognised earlier this month with an Australian Biosecurity Award.

Dr Cox-Witton said it was a collaborative effort to better prepare Australia for an incursion of the disease, which has not been found in Australia but has devastated bat populations in the United States and Canada.

“Some very dedicated people were critical to the success of this project,” she said. “I’d particularly like to recognise Rachel Iglesias from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Nicholas White from the Australian Speleological Federation, a team of experts led by Peter Holz from the University of Melbourne, and my colleagues at Wildlife Health Australia.

“I am very pleased and honoured to receive the award.

“It is good to see that the value of environmental biosecurity, and the intrinsic importance of wildlife, has been recognised at a national level,” Dr Cox-Witton said.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which thrives in cold conditions and affects hibernating bats in caves. The disease has led to the deaths of millions of insectivorous bats overseas.

The project included assessment of the risk of the disease being introduced into Australia, development of response guidelines in case of an incursion, and advice for those who come into contact with bats on how to recognise and report a suspected case of the disease.

A number of activities were aimed at raising awareness of cavers about the disease and how to avoid introducing the fungus.

Wildlife Health Australia CEO Dr Rupert Woods said that the work of Dr Cox-Witton and others on white-nose syndrome could have wider impacts.

Dr Keren Cox-Witton, with her Australian Biosecurity Award

“Most importantly, the project serves as a case study on how to manage the risk of exotic wildlife diseases. It is a great example of how key stakeholders can support the Australian Government and its leadership on important environmental health issues. It is amazing what can be achieved when we all work together,” he said.

Further information:

Australian Biosecurity Awards media release

White-nose syndrome information