Greenville Zoo, Furman University partner to highlight global conservation efforts

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On Wednesday night, Dr. Chris Cornelison of Georgia State University will give a presentation at the Children's Museum about white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease killing off bats across the East Coast. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

Sure, bats can seem like vicious monsters swooping just overhead at night. But in reality, they are more of a blessing than a curse. With bats around, there are fewer insects spreading diseases, raiding vegetable gardens and sucking blood.

But the nocturnal creatures are in danger.

That will be the message from Dr. Chris Cornelison of Atlanta’s Georgia State University on Wednesday night. The microbiologist is giving a free presentation about white-nose syndrome and his efforts to stop the deadly disease from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Children’s Museum of the Upstate in downtown Greenville.

“White-nose syndrome is the most devastating wildlife disease in modern history. The rapid spread and unprecedented mortality rates are hypothesized to result in species extinctions within our lifetime,” Cornelison said.

White-nose syndrome has caused more than 5.7 million bats to die across eastern North America since 2005. And for the past six years, Cornelison and a team of researchers have battled the fungal disease, even concocting the first treatment last year.

The presentation could be the first of many coming to downtown. The Greenville Zoo and Furman University have officially partnered to hold a series of free lectures that highlight various global conservation efforts.

“The goal is to help the public learn and understand the importance of being responsible stewards of the planet,” said Nikolay Kapustin, deputy zoo administrator and veterinarian for the Greenville Zoo. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Furman student or businessperson from downtown. We just want everyone to come out to the lectures.”

The conservation lecture series is funded through the Greenville Zoo Conservation Fund, Furman University’s biology department and the student-led Environmental Action Group.

The idea for the series began in 2013 with Furman biology professor John Quinn, who wanted students to hear about conservation efforts. Since then, the Greenville Zoo has helped bring researchers to the campus for conservation presentations. But Kapustin and Quinn decided to relocate the lecture series to downtown this year.

“The lectures were held exclusively at Furman University before. So our goal is to draw a broader audience from the surrounding area with this being downtown. The location of the lecture series will probably vary between a downtown venue and Furman in the future. But that depends on how well this one turns out,” Kapustin said.

There will be three or four more lectures through the spring, according to Kapustin, who is currently recruiting researchers to present their conservation efforts. He added that a potential presentation in November could address Madagascar wildlife, which is currently threatened by deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade. Other presentations could include various research topics, including anteaters and giant armadillos.

A final schedule should be released sometime this fall.

Kapustin, who joined the Greenville Zoo in January, chose Cornelison for the series after hearing his presentation at the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians conference in Georgia earlier this year.

“Bats are an important part of an ecosystem and contribute to decreasing populations of nuisance or pest insects such as mosquitoes,” said Kapustin. “A decrease negatively impacts the environment as those insects increase in number and contribute to the incidence of certain diseases, such as viral encephalitis.”

He also selected Cornelison because the presentation complements the Greenville Zoo’s Halloween-themed “Boo in the Zoo” event, which raises funds for its conservation efforts. That event starts on Friday, Oct. 21, at 5:30 p.m.

The lecture series could create additional educational opportunities. “We might just have researchers independent of this joint venture come through and hold free lectures at the zoo,” said Kapustin. “But it all depends on how this turns out.”

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