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VOLUME 30, NO. 4 Winter 2012


News & Notes

Member Nights are back at Bracken

Bat Conservation International is proud to announce the return of BCI Member Nights for viewing the world’s largest bat colony at Bracken Bat Cave near San Antonio, Texas. We have decided not to continue last summer’s admission-fee experiment that opened Bracken to the general public. Visiting Bracken is a benefit of joining BCI.

Nearby Natural Bridge Caverns, BCI’s partner in last year’s test, conducted supervised public tours five evenings a week through the summer to watch millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the cave. The bats were carefully monitored through the season, and there was no evidence that increased visitation had any discernible impact.

“Natural Bridge Caverns was an excellent partner and performed admirably throughout this experiment. We greatly appreciate their partnership on this test and their commitment to the conservation of the Bracken bats. Our decision in no way questions their first-rate efforts, and we are jointly considering a limited number of public-viewing nights,” said Dave Waldien, BCI’s Interim Executive Director.

“But after reviewing the results, we believe that our education and conservation goals for Bracken as an iconic symbol for international bat conservation are best served by providing special nights for BCI’s valued members and their guests and for targeted groups, such as science teachers, conservation organizations, legislators and Scouts.”

BCI has reserved 21 nights exclusively for BCI Members and their guests from May through September, including an unprecedented all-night opportunity (already filled) on August 10, when visitors will experience the bats’ emergence, the Perseid meteor shower and the bats’ return at dawn the next day. Bracken Under the Stars Nights, with special programs, are planned May 25, June 28 and July 10.

Each BCI membership will admit two adults on Member Nights. You may also bring up to two children (18 years old or younger) at no cost. For more details, including how to bring ­additional guests, or to sign up for a Member Night, please visit www.batcon.org/bracken. Reservations are required, and new memberships may be obtained during the reservation process.

The 2013 Member Night schedule:

May 25, 29; June 1, 9, 14, 22, 26, 28; July 5, 10, 13, 18, 27; August 1, 10, 15, 23, 29; September 5, 14, 19

Sign up now for a BCI Workshop

Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, where habitats range from deserts to high-country forests, support an amazing bat diversity. At least 18 bat species live in these dramatic mountains. Few areas are better suited for Bat Conservation International’s ­­field-training workshops. BCI’s two 2013 workshops will be based at the American Museum of Natural History’s prestigious Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Arizona.

These intensive six-day sessions blend lectures and field trips with hands-on training by veteran BCI biologists and regional experts. With the threat of White-nose Syndrome, participants at all BCI workshops will learn and follow approved decontamination guidelines.

Space is very limited this year, so make your reservations early.

The Acoustic Monitoring Workshop (June 4-9) offers biologists, consultants and researchers in-depth experience with cutting-edge technologies. You’ll work directly with AnaBat/ AnaLook and SonoBat software developers Chris Corben and Joe Szewczak to learn techniques for collecting, recording and analyzing bat calls. The session covers heterodyne, frequency-division, time-expansion and direct-recording techniques, as well as protocols for designing an acoustic-inventory project. The $1,795 fee covers course materials, lodging, food and transportation in the field.

The Bat Conservation and Management Workshop (June 10-15) will provide hands-on experience using mist nets, harp traps, radiotracking gear and bat detectors, along with lectures, discussions and field trips. Field training includes safe and humane bat handling, capture techniques, and species identification. The $1,595 fee covers course materials, food, lodging and transportation in the field.

The Passing of Friends

Verne R. Read • 1922-2012

by Merlin D. Tuttle
Founder of Bat Conservation International

Verne Read was essential to the birth and continuing success of Bat Conservation International and his legacy will always be a key part of this organization. He and his wife, Marion, were indispensable supporters and friends when bats had few advocates. Verne, surrounded by his much-loved family, died peacefully of complications from Parkinson’s disease on November 25, 2012. He was 90.

Verne was always a vigorous competitor in both scholastics and sports. He earned scholarships at Amherst College where he was a member of the orchestra and swim team. At 20, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he graduated at the top of his class from an officer’s training program. After serving two years as a meteorologist for the Army Air Corps, he entered Harvard Law School on a full scholarship. While there, Verne gained the attention of his lifelong partner, Marion Chester, by beating her in a tennis match, which was unusual since Marion was nationally ranked.

Both were big-hearted individuals with extraordinarily broad interests and adventuresome spirits. Where some saw insurmountable hurdles, Verne and Marion saw opportunity and adventure.

I first met Verne in 1975, when I was Curator of Mammals at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Back then, most people feared bats as vile and dangerous. But when Verne learned that thousands of bats had moved into a wall of their summer cottage, he called me to learn more about them. He and his family were delighted to learn the truth about bats and quickly became enthusiastic supporters of bats.

Verne and Marion believed in bat conservation and in my vision when almost no one else did. When leading experts turned thumbs-down on my first research proposal, a study of frog-eating bats, because they doubted bats’ ability to eavesdrop on low-frequency frog calls, the Reads funded the project and even assisted me in the Panamanian jungle. We proved the experts wrong, which led to scientific papers and an article in National Geographic magazine.

Then in 1982, when bats still ranked between rattlesnakes and cockroaches in popularity, the Reads helped me found Bat Conservation International. Verne became its founding trustee and enthusiastically opened doors of opportunity for BCI. He served for more than 20 years, playing a key role in building it into a world leader in conservation. Verne and Marion and their family have provided leading support for BCI efforts that have protected many critical bat habitats. Their assistance was crucial in gaining a national park to conserve bats in American Samoa and in establishing a 700-acre nature reserve for the world’s largest bat colony at Bracken Cave in Texas. Two of the Reads’ sons, Tom and Sandy, have taken up the cause and served admirably as BCI trustees.

Verne’s legacy of bat conservation and his love and generosity for family and friends will never be forgotten. Verne is survived by his widow, Marion Chester Read; brothers Frank and Douglas Read; children Alice, Ross, Sandy and Tom; and 12 grandchildren.

A tribute to Tom Kunz

Editor’s note: Tom Kunz, one of the world’s most esteemed bat biologists, is recovering from injuries after being hit by a car October 26, 2011, while attending the North American Symposium on Bat Research in Toronto, Canada. Biologist Brock Fenton of the University of Western Ontario and BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle offer this tribute.

It is hard to find an area of bat biology or conservation that Tom Kunz has not directly influenced. In a sense, his Ph.D. research on cave myotis (Myotis velifer) in 1971 provided a clear indication of his vision as a researcher and the breadth of his interests. This vision is clearly reflected in his recent publications about the biology of bats, research that spans the spectrum from the impact of White-nose Syndrome to bats’ specific benefits in agroecosystems.

We are continually impressed by his knack for adopting new techniques and his talent for opening new doors for researchers who work with bats. As Director of Boston University’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Tom is pioneering the new, multidisciplinary field of aeroecology – the study of how airborne organisms (including bats) use and depend on the lower atmosphere.

Tom’s lifelong record of achievements and contributions reflects three invaluable traits: tenacity, enthusiasm and patience. These are critical for anyone whose job requires teaching and inspiring students and post-docs. But Tom is also a tireless public advocate for bats and science, taking his message to audiences from schools and community groups to conferences and conservation organizations.

A prime example of Tom’s value to his field is the six books he has edited or coedited. Editing books is probably worse than herding bats – itself an order of magnitude worse than herding cats (since bat are racing through three dimensions instead of two). He persevered in extracting chapters from authors who persistently ignored deadlines. Not everyone demonstrates such ­tolerance.

Among his books is Ecological and Behavioral Methods for the Study of Bats, which Tom edited with Stuart Parsons. It is widely praised as one of the best resources available for professional bat researchers, educators and conservationists. Thanks to the generosity of its members and friends, BCI will soon be distributing copies of this indispensable text to key professionals in developing countries.

One of Tom’s most enduring contributions is the founding of the Tiburtine Biodiversity Station in eastern Ecuador in 1995. Having a field station in this difficult region gives bat biologists and other scientists a base from which to work, allowing them to undertake research projects that often would otherwise be no more than flights of fancy. The positive impact of this achievement will be felt for many years to come.

We ask you to join us in saluting Tom Kunz for his outstanding contributions to the study and conservation of bats. We wish him a speedy recovery and know that we will always be working with Tom through the countless students and colleagues he has influenced around the world.

Endangered bats get complex gates

A gate built years ago to protect the bats of Bat Cave in ­Oregon County, Missouri, turned out to be more of a problem than a solution. The original gate, designed with now-outdated information, was placed deep in the cave where the passageway shrinks sharply, creating a bottleneck so severe that the bats virtually abandoned the site. Once the problem was recognized, managers reduced the impact by keeping the gate’s doorway open. By last summer more than 100,000 bats were counted, making this the state’s largest summer colony of ­endangered gray myotis (Myotis grisescens).

But the area around this important cave in the Mark Twain National Forest is partially surrounded by private land and crisscrossed with trails for all-terrain vehicles, putting the cave bats at great risk of human disturbance. Now, however, the old gate is gone. And in its place are a pair of unusually complex gates that really are bat friendly.

This challenging project was accomplished through a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, which provided core funding, manpower and vehicles; the not-for-profit Cave Research Foundation (CRF), which served as project manager and provided the steel, tools and other equipment; and Bat Conservation International, which dispatched BCI cave specialist Jim Kennedy to design the gates and oversee construction.

This is one of the most biologically important caves in the sprawling national forest. In addition to the critical colony of gray myotis, it is also home to other bat species, as well as frogs, salamanders, spiders, beetles, crickets and leeches. Special gates were required because summer colonies leave a cave each night to forage, and a basic bat gate could cause a massive traffic jam with so many bats.

“This was the most difficult cave-gate project I have ever done,” said Kennedy. “The entrances were high on a cliff, so access was very difficult. The steep slope, the entrance dimensions, the cultural sensitivity and the design that was necessary for such a large summer colony combined to create problems that are rarely encountered.”

After year and a half of planning, Kennedy and the Forest Service/CRF crew, reinforced by nine AmeriCorps members, went to work in October. Materials and equipment were hauled up to the cave with a winch along a well-anchored steel cable.

One structure was a “flyover gate,” which leaves an opening high at the top that lets bats come and go. The other was an extremely difficult “chute gate.” These rarely built gates feature a large, tube-like vent through which even very large numbers of bats can move freely in either direction. Kennedy learned to design such gates from master-gater Roy Powers, with whom he has worked off and on since the mid-1980s.

Both gates were completed ahead of schedule in just 1½ weeks. The equipment was hauled off, the old gate removed, trails and other signs of construction were returned to a natural state and the weary workers went home. Now we all wait until next summer, to see what the bats think about our efforts.

Funding for this project was provided by Mark Twain National Forest, Cave Research Foundation, JDD Holdings Inc. and the Woodtiger Fund.

Bats help the blind to see

The young man on the bicycle can’t see; a genetic disorder stole his eyesight about a year ago. Yet he maneuvered his mountain bike with a fair bit of confidence around obstacles and along a twisting woodlands path – thanks to bats and the impressive technology they inspired.

Dan Smith, a blind 21-year-old aeronautical engineering student at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, was featured on a BBC television series called Miracles of Nature.

The natural “miracle” in this case is echolocation, the biosonar system that bats use to dodge obstacles and chase down fast-flying insects in the dark. The bats emit ultrasonic pulses, then analyze the echoes that bounce back to build a “picture” of whatever is in front of them.

The program and host Richard Hammond then took another step and explored a sort of techno-miracle – the Ultracane developed in the UK by Sound Foresight Technology as a sophisticated “mobility aid” for the blind. The cane mimics bat echolocation by emitting ultrasonic waves (which people cannot hear) through two transducers in the handle. It gathers and uses the echoes to detect objects in the user’s path, signaling the presence, proximity and height of obstructions through two vibrating buttons on the handle.

Miracles of Nature asked Smith, an experienced bicyclist, if he’d like to try riding along a trail on a mountain bike fitted with the Ultracane technology. The bike’s handlebars vibrate to signal obstacles on the left, right or center.

Dan agreed and, with the cameras running, safely completed his epic ride. “I had to concentrate really hard,” he said in a news release from the University of Bristol. “But it was great to be able to independently ride a bike again.

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All articles in this issue:
Bats, Mines and Citizen Science in the Rockies
Helping Guano Miners Save Bats
BCI Conservation Impact Awards
Banishing ‘Evil’ Myths in Kenya
News & Notes
The Memo from our Executive Director
Tracking Bats on the Wing
The Wish List

Unless otherwise noted, all images are copyright ©Merlin D. Tuttle and/or ©Bat Conservation International