Millions of bats have died from a disease called white-nose syndrome. When bats are hibernating in the winter, a white fungus covers their noses, wings, ears and tails. Bats with the disease display unusual behavior such as flying outside in the winter and clustering near the entrance of a cave. This leads bats to starve to death from excess activity or to freeze to death. The disease was first documented 2006 in eastern New York and has spread to other eastern U.S. states and Canadian provinces since then.
Currently, conservationists are attacking the problem from multiple angles, including treating the infection or developing a vaccine. But The Nature Conservancy is taking a different approach. They have built an artificial cave in Tennessee hoping to lure bats from a nearby natural cave that displays early signs of white-nose syndrome. If they are successful in attracting tenants, they will be able to control the disease in their cave by cleaning it every summer. In a natural cave, they cannot spray or hose it down without destroying the other natural organisms that thrive in that environment. Building a man-made cave specifically for bats allows for a safe, disease-free shelter for the bats every winter without disrupting the flora and fauna of the natural cave.