Bat disease prompts Smokies to close caves

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Federal officials are asking people in Tennessee to stay out of caves where bats hibernate. They're attempting to stop the spread of a disease that's killed an estimated half-million bats in the Northeast.

Bats are dying from what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls "white-nose syndrome," a fungus that causes bats to come out of hibernation early, leading to starvation.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed 17 caves and two mine complexes. Violators could face a fine as high as $5,000, or six months in jail.

Officials with the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee say they will soon make a decision on closing caves on the forest's 635,000 acres that surrounds the Smokies.

Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel,

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