Bat Conservation International was facing a crisis in 1992. Six years after moving from Wisconsin to Austin, Texas, BCI was overflowing its offices as leasing fees were rising sharply. There was not enough room where we were and not enough money to move. So Founder Merlin Tuttle spoke with Bill Haber of Beverly Hills, California.
As always, Bill, then a founding partner of Creative Artists, one of Hollywood's top talent agencies, was ready to help. "Merlin sent me photos and business info on the building. Basically, BCI wanted to buy that lovely building but didn't have the money, so I bought it for them, and they bought it back from me."
Initially, Bill leased the first floor to other businesses, while BCI used the top floor. In 1995, with help from Perry, Lee and Ed Bass, BCI purchased the 10,000-square-foot building.
The building, in a wooded business park just west of Austin's Wild Basin nature reserve, is still BCI's international headquarters. With ample room and no lease payments, our energy stays focused on conserving bats – thanks mostly to Bill Haber.
"I've always been interested in bats, mostly jokingly in the beginning. But there was an article in People magazine [in 1986] that was something about bats in films and how they were so badly misrepresented. That same month, I read one of Merlin's photo essays in National Geographic. That's when I joined up."
The letter he sent with his membership said he wanted "to help convince Americans that the bats' bad rap is a bum rap."
In 1987, Bill provided generous financial support for membership development and staff training. BCI's membership climbed from 2,000 to 7,000 within two years.
His entertainment experience proved invaluable in enabling production of The Secret World of Bats, a 1990 documentary that featured Merlin Tuttle and was filmed around the world by Survival Anglia. When Merlin first mentioned the idea, Bill recalls, "I went to Kim LeMasters, who was president of CBS Entertainment, and out of that came The Secret World of Bats." The video was developed for CBS, where it drew 7 million viewers in prime time. It has been rebroadcast in 70 countries.
Bill is now President of OSTAR Enterprises in Westport, Connecticut, where he produces movies, television programs and Broadway plays. (He also invests about half his time as a special adviser and board member of Save the Children.) Being in the entertainment business, "I see how badly bats are depicted. And when they are, I always complain."
Bats, he said, "just do good, and they are so misunderstood. The more you're around them, the more you understand how smart and valuable they are. But they are more vulnerable than most animals. I think BCI provides really necessary protection for a very misunderstood mammal. I think somebody has to do it, and BCI does it better than anybody else."
Bill said he traveled occasionally with Merlin and one trip was especially memorable. "We went to Sydney, Australia, and spent three days training flying fox orphans to fly. To actually train bats to fly when they've lost their mothers – that was just fantastic. You know what they say: 'To know a bat is to love a bat."