On March 16th, 2015, two hikers named Codey Foster and Dusten Ray Gill licked a tricolor bat in violation of federal law. The bat was hibernating in the Bowden Cave in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, remote enough that if the hikers had kept their bat-licking escapade to themselves, no one might ever have discovered the crime. Unfortunately for the duo, they also spray-painted their names on the cave wall and uploaded evidence of the crime to Facebook.
A local caving group discovered the graffiti two months later and forwarded the report along to the Forest Service, which sprung into action. Investigating the names, they discovered the duo’s Facebook pages, and discovered photos of the licking as well as the following exchange.
Gill: Bad ass time bro (1:44pm)
Name withheld: Oh the things you do to make me soooo [sic] proud? Touching a bat with your tongue…ummm not so much lol (3:15pm)
Gill: Lol it was soooooo [sic] worth it. (5:04pm)
Name withheld: Bet that was fun Lmao (7:48pm)
Gill: Yes it was we both licked a bat haha (8:21pm)
In 2002, Bowden Cave was designated as a "significant cave" under the Federal Caves Resource Protection Act — but in recent years, a fungal epidemic among bats has made that designation a matter of life or death. Since 2006, a condition known as White Nose Syndrome has devastated bat populations in the northeast, infecting the creatures’ muzzle, ears, and wings as they hibernate. Affected areas see as many as 80 percent of bats fall to the disease, contributing to more than 6 million bat deaths in the decade since the disease was discovered.
As a result, conservationists have gotten very serious about protecting bat caves. "The concern is if those same individuals visited another cave, and which cave, and where?" Rob Mies of the Organization for Bat Conservation told The Verge. "Even the smallest amount of soil could carry the spore."
Wildlife services recommend a full decontamination after leaving bat caves to prevent the spread of the disease, but many wilderness-goers ignore the recommendation and speed the spread of the deadly fungus. Earlier this year, a case of White Nose Syndrome was discovered in King County, Washington, the first known instance of the disease on the West Coast.
"As far as licking them goes," Mies continued, "would it injure the bats? Would it contribute to White Nose Syndrome? No."
Despite the severity of the epidemic, Gill and Foster got off easy, coming away with only a $250 fine and $70 in fees for each defendant, paid in full on July 25th.