Bat researchers in Thailand recently came upon a gut-wrenching sight: well over 1,000 lifeless bats dangled from great nets placed in and around several fruit orchards. The bats, mostly nectar-eating dawn bats (Eonycteris spelaea), had become hopelessly entangled in the nets and simply left to die of thirst and starvation.
Paul Racey of the United Kingdom, Co-chair of the IUCN Bat Specialist Group and a BCI Science Advisor, learned of this needless, gruesome slaughter and alerted BCI. We asked Harrison Institute Director Paul Bates, who has long studied Asian bats, to investigate.
The local researchers confirmed that within an area of less than four square miles (10 square kilometers), such nets were strung around three orchards to keep bats and other wildlife from the growing fruit. About 300 dead bats were found at the smallest of the orchards, and as many as 1,000 at the largest. The extent of this practice in Thailand is unknown, but conservationists fear it could spread rapidly – with dire consequences for these beneficial bats that pollinate a number of valuable plants.
Biologist Sara Bumrungsri of Thailand's Prince of Songkla University has developed a preliminary plan to meet this threat quickly through a combination of research to document alternative orchard-protection measures and education on cost-effective and less brutal techniques.
Bumrungsri's team will conduct cost-benefit analyses for deterrents such as fermented fish, lighting, nets that do not ensnare bats and other suggestions for keeping bats away from commercial fruit trees. Crews also plan to monitor fruit bats in the canopy of fruit trees with night-vision video cameras.
During the study, the team will work to educate fruit farmers about the ecological and economic importance of bats to their local economy. Research results will be disseminated at a community meeting for farmers and through television and newspaper outlets. BCI and other partners plan to include the study in educational materials aimed at protecting bats, explaining their benefits and helping farmers to coexist with bats.
BCI is currently raising funds to help support this research-and-education effort to protect these bats. You can help save dawn bats in Thailand from a painful, senseless death by supporting this and other urgent bat-conservation efforts at BCI. Please donate at www.batcon.org/donate.
A new direction for Bracken Bat Cave
Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge each summer evening from Bracken Bat Cave, flying up from the cave mouth in a dense, swirling vortex. You can hear the soft flutter of countless flapping wings as the bats form twisting columns to soar over the Texas Hill Country for a night of hunting the insect-pests that bedevil farmers. Watching the bats emerge from Bracken Cave is an unforgettable experience that can instantly transform attitudes about bats.
Bat Conservation International will be sharing that awe-inspiring educational experience more broadly than ever this summer while testing a new partnership with nearby Natural Bridge Caverns. The operators of Natural Bridge Caverns will conduct closely supervised tours to witness Bracken Cave emergences Wednesdays through Sundays through the summer.
BCI acquired the cave, summer home to the world's largest bat colony, in 1992 to secure it from the rapidly expanding suburbs of San Antonio. The organization now also owns and conserves 697 ruggedly beautiful acres that surround the cave.
From the beginning, the vision was to use Bracken Bat Cave as the centerpiece of a powerful educational experience to teach the public about bats and their benefits. The financial ability to do that, however, proved elusive. Visitors have been limited to BCI Members on special "Member Nights" and to occasional groups and organizations. Outreach to the general public was not possible.
BCI hopes to change that through this trial partnership. Natural Bridge Caverns has demonstrated its commitment to conservation and education about caves and ecosystems and is a long-standing supporter of BCI. This partnership will allow Bat Conservation International to gauge the public's interest in visiting the site and the educational results of those visits. The bats will be monitored to identify any negative impacts on the colony. The tours will be halted if there is any indication that the bats are being disturbed.
BCI Members, meanwhile, are no longer limited to only a handful of member nights, but may make reservations to visit Wednesdays through Sundays all summer long. Some changes to members' Bracken Cave benefits were needed to help cover the costs of maintaining the Bracken property and of other critical conservation issues, including White-nose Syndrome.
BCI Members and guests are entitled to free or discounted tickets to view an emergence. BCI Members may make reservations by calling (512) 327-9721 during business hours. Non-members may receive free or discounted tickets by joining BCI, or they may purchase tickets at: brackenbatflight.com
Members in Action: Bats and orchards
Canadian Allan Kempert is a serious fan of bats. And as the owner of BatHouseGuy.com, he has turned that passion into a business for building bat houses and excluding bats (humanely) from buildings. "Bat conservation is a priority with me and I have gained an appreciation over the years for the positive impact bats can have for agriculture," he says. So he's preaching the benefits of "these natural pest controllers" to farmers, especially organic growers, around the province of Ontario. Sometimes it really pays off.
Kempert, a BCI member from Hanover, Ontario, recently convinced a local organic apple grower to let him install a large, three-chamber bat house as part of his natural pest-control efforts. Like all his bat houses, it was built to BCI recommendations. The 4-by-8 foot (1.2-by-2.4-meter) artificial roost at Filsinger Apple Orchard could host as many as 2,500 big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) and little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus), which could consume millions of insects every night. Given the bats' foraging range, nearby farmers should also benefit – and perhaps follow Filsinger's example.
Brandon Weber, part owner and manager of the orchard, says he expects the bat house to become a "low-maintenance part of our Integrated Pest Management process. The bats eat harmful insects, but not our beneficial bugs, such as bees, which pollinate, and lady bugs, which consume apple mites."
He's also planning to use the bat guano that accumulates beneath the bat house as a potent natural fertilizer, which "has been used in agriculture since ancient times."
In addition to helping to control pests, says Kempert, who gives frequent bat talks, the big bat house "provides a 'wow' factor that will naturally draw out people's curiosity" and presents new opportunities for public outreach.
Weber plans to showcase the bat house and the benefits of bats during regular orchard tours and especially during the area's annual Apple Blossom Festival on May 26.
No bats have moved into the bat house, but Kempert said bats live in the surrounding area and he expects them to discover the bat house, which is located near a pond, before too long. He hopes the larger size will encourage female bats to raise pups there and establish a maternity colony.
Kempert is the author of Simple Bat Eviction, an accurate and popular do-it-yourself guide to humane bat exclusions. And he continues spreading the word around Ontario about the benefits of bats.
Scouting for bats in Mississippi
Combining bats, biologists, scouts and adults produced a unique educational experience and Year of the Bat celebration in Mississippi last year.
Bat biologists and bat enthusiasts of the Mississippi Bat Working Group (MBWG) conducted a bat survey, complete with a mist-netting demonstration, and bat-education stations at Sardis Lake for Boy Scout Webelos Pack 234 of Olive Branch, Mississippi.
The boys, ages 9 to 11, and their families learned about Mississippi's bats and their benefits, biology and conservation at the Scouting for Bats event. The scouts earned credits for the Wildlife Conservation Belt Loop and Pin by participating in the evening's interactive activities.
Each scout presented a report to the group about one bat species. Meanwhile, MBWG members were busy catching bats at a nearby creek to give the boys an "up-close" look at live bats and how researchers collect data from them. Twelve eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis) were caught in 18-meter mist nets. The next step for the scouts was an MBWG-approved bat-conservation project at one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Yazoo River Basin lakes with the help of Corps Rangers.
This popular event is part of the Working Group's efforts to conserve bats through research and education. The group consists of 125 individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including teachers, landowners and retirees, as well as professional wildlife biologists, foresters and rangers working throughout Mississippi.
In addition to outreach programs such as Scouting for Bats, the working group inventories bat species throughout the state and monitors Mississippi's 15 indigenous species for signs of White-nose Syndrome.
Collaboration in Latin America
BCI and RELCOM (the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation) are launching a dynamic new initiative for combined efforts on behalf of the 30 percent of the world's more than 1,250 bat species that live in this vast region. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reflects BCI's new commitment to global conservation through partnerships and collaboration. RELCOM, founded in 2007, is a rapidly expanding network of bat-conservation groups across Latin America that work together for bat research, education and conservation. It now includes 15 member countries from Mexico to Argentina.
Last January in Costa Rica, leaders of RELCOM and BCI met for the first time to explore the benefits of collaboration. After two days of spirited discussions, they committed to a series of collaborative projects, including partnering on the 2012 RELCOM meeting and conducting workshops in Central America.
"By empowering local efforts, this MOU will benefit the conservation of bats and the ecological processes in which they are involved in Latin America by means of research activities, capacity building and public outreach," said RELCOM General Coordinator Luis Aguirre of the University of San Simón in Bolivia.
"It is gratifying to complete this agreement," said BCI Executive Director Nina Fascione. "We believe it will truly help advance bat conservation throughout Latin America and serve as a model for collaboration around the world. We look forward to working with RELCOM and with the many individual-country partners."