Zuri was a star. Gentle, playful and wonderfully cute, this little fruit bat from Africa spent nine years as an endearing antidote to the notion that bats are snarling and dangerous flying rats. As BCI's "bat ambassador," Zuri appeared with Founder Merlin Tuttle at countless public events, lectures, school visits and TV reports, including featured spots on The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman. This affable bat always enchanted its audiences.
Zuri was one of several adult straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) that Tuttle captured during a 1984 trip to Kenya and brought back to the United States. Most went to zoos, but Zuri stayed with BCI. Photos from those years show Zuri nestled upside down in Tuttle's hands as fascinated children and adults crowd close to see what a bat really looks like.
Simply seeing a bat up close for the first time can have a remarkable impact. The surprise is often evident on people's faces, and you can almost see preconceptions being swept away. That explains much of the value of Tuttle's carefully crafted photos of the world's bats.
In fact, the first U.S. postage stamps to feature bats were issued after BCI member Carol Adams of Medina, Texas, met Virginia Noelke, chair of the Postal Service's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, at a dinner party. She showed Noelke a BCI poster covered with striking pictures of bats. Two years later, in 2002, four first-class stamps bearing Tuttle's photos were released.
Zuri, meanwhile, retired from public life in 1993. He died in 2009 in Austin, 25 years after he came to America as an adult. The role of BCI bat ambassador is now ably filled by Zoey. She was born in 1991, the daughter of another of the fruit bats from Kenya.
Zoey, along with ZuZu, another offspring of the original bats, now lives in a flight cage in the backyard of BCI Outreach Associate Dianne Odegard. ZuZu is ailing, but Zoey is often on the road, enchanting the public with her antics just as her predecessor did for so many years.