Rodrigues flying fox: a tragic wonder
A critically endangered bat – the Rodrigues flying fox (Pteropus rodricensis), found only on a single island some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) off the coast of southern Africa – is being highlighted as one of the Alliance for Zero Extinctions’ Seven Wonders of Endangered Species. These seven species were chosen by more than 100,000 worldwide votes cast on social media.
These seven selected animals are meant to call attention to a total of 587 critical sites, each identified by AZE as the single remaining home of one or more endangered species.
“Each of these phenomenal sites holds a unique wonder of nature – be it a charismatic bird, frog, turtle, or mammal – that is worth protecting in perpetuity, said AZE Chairman Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy. “While today we are announcing Seven Wonders, AZE sites are really 587 wonders around the world.”
The Alliance is a network of 88 prominent conservation groups (including Bat Conservation International) from 35 countries that is working to protect those unique AZE sites.
The Rodrigues flying fox is found only within a range of less than 50 square miles (130 square kilometers) on Rodrigues Island, part of the Republic of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Its dwindling bat population is threatened especially by loss of habitat to deforestation, which also increases the often-deadly impact of tropical cyclones on these fruit-eating bats. A promising captive-breeding program is under way with small populations at zoos around the world.
“The Rodrigues flying fox is beautifully adapted to the dry woodlands of its small Indian Ocean island,” said BCI Executive Director Andrew Walker. “Unfortunately, it’s not alone in its troubles: island bats around the world face similar, severe threats.
“AZE’s Seven Wonders project is an important reminder of all that we lose when species go extinct,” he said.
The other six Wonders of Endangered Species are the long-whiskered owlet of Abra Patricia, Peru; the golden poison frog of Río Saija, Colombia; the Roti Island snake-necked turtle of Roti Island, Indonesia; the Siberian crane of Poyang Hu, China; the Lear’s macaw of Raso da Catarina, Brazil; and the Juan Fernández firecrown of Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile.
Forest Service awards for BCI
The U.S. Forest Service is honoring four members of the Bat Conservation International Education Department who developed and helped present an exciting live webcast from BCI’s Bracken Bat Cave. The internet-based experience gave more than 40,000 people a lesson in bats and bat conservation, as well as a virtual ringside seat for the emergence of the world’s largest bat colony. To date, more than 200,000 others have viewed the online video.
BCI is a founding partner, with the Forest Service and the Prince William (Virginia) Network, of the BatsLIVE program that has now produced four webcasts, including the September 18, 2012, program from Bracken. The goal of distance-learning programs is to “raise the awareness, understanding and appreciation of bats and the unique karst and cave ecosystems that many bats rely on.”
Among those receiving Forest Service Wings Across the Americas/BatsLIVE Glass Awards for 2013 were BCI Education Director James Eggers, who conceived the program, planned the agenda and cohosted the program, and Bracken Cave Coordinator Fran Hutchins, who handled logistics and gave presentations on the Bracken colony.
Certificates were awarded to BCI Outreach Associate Dianne Odegard, who displayed live bats, and Habitat Protection Coordinator Jim Kennedy, who described cave and karst ecology and their use by bats.
The awards were presented March 27 in Arlington, Virginia, in conjunction with the 2013 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.
The U.S. Forest Service and its International Programs have been invaluable partners with BCI in an array of bat-conservation programs and projects for years. The Bracken webcast can be viewed at www.batslive.pwnet.org/webcast/webcast_page_sep18.php
Neighbors save Austin bats
by Dianne Odegard
Calls and emails started pouring into BCI last September (2012) from folks living near Lamar Plaza in Austin, Texas. The shopping center was about to be demolished to make way for new development and these concerned neighbors informed us that hundreds, maybe thousands of tenants at Lamar Plaza had no lease and no intention of leaving. They were bats.
Mexican free-tailed bats had been roosting behind signs and in crevices around the plaza for decades. The largest colony found a home behind a colorful plywood sign at Ray & Shane Hennig’s Heart of Texas Music store. The space between the building and the long, narrow sign provided about 50 square feet (5.5 square meters) of prime real estate for freetails.
Austin is famous for the urban bat colony that lives under its Congress Avenue Bridge, but countless other bats roost throughout the city. Most people rarely notice these urban bats, but the Lamar Plaza area included a lot of neighbors who had been watching bats emerge from behind that sign for years. Many who contacted us offered to help if BCI could think of a way to save the bats.
“I’d been keeping an eye on those bats for almost seven years,” said John Stewart, who lives nearby. “When I heard about the pending demolition, I knew we had to do something to save them and give them a chance to thrive somewhere else.”
About six weeks before demolition was to begin, Heart of Texas Music owners Ray and Mary Hennig gave us permission to have BCI volunteers take down the sign, which they planned to use at a future location. We wanted to ensure that the sign came down after dark, when most of the bats would be gone on their nightly insect hunt.
I soon received a call from Greystar Development & Construction, which was overseeing the work. Project manager Robert Holland said Greystar was definitely interested in helping the bats. He arranged for construction superintendent Raymond McKittrick to meet with me, BCI volunteer Lee Mackenzie (my husband) and John Stewart.
McKittrick said Greystar would pay for one or more bat houses, but there was no room to install a large, permanent artificial roost at the site. So we went with Plan B: neighborhood bat houses.
That’s when Stewart went into action. He created a flyer describing the situation and the need for backyard bat houses. He and his daughter Irene delivered the flyer to nearly 60 homes. And bat houses began springing up around the area.
Fortunately, this project coincided with the fall migration, when most Mexican free-tailed bats leave Central Texas to fly south for the winter. We set out to remove the sign on November 19, just one day before demolition began. With bat houses in place throughout the neighborhood, the rest was up to the bats.
With a pickup truck, a ladder and assorted tools, volunteer Wes Hall, Lee and I set to work. As the sign’s three panels came slowly down, hundreds of bats came flying out. Several startled bats landed in the bed of the pickup, and the work shut down briefly as we retrieved and examined the downed bats. All eventually flew safely off to rejoin their roost mates.
This was a remarkable and unexpected demonstration of the power of informal cooperation for conservation. Neighbors who might never have met became allies; a development company stepped up to protect animals from the unintended consequences of a project; and BCI staff and volunteers saw just how strongly many Austinites feel about their bats.
Thanks also to Jon Lees, Kenneth Finnegan and Patty Stewart for their help, and to Debbie Zent of Austin Batworks for her excellent bat houses.
Working together, we can make a great difference for bat conservation.
DIANNE ODEGARD, a bat rehabilitator, is Outreach Associate for Bat Conservation International.
Honors for Bracken volunteers
This year’s San Antonio Bat Fest celebrated the bats of Texas – and BCI also used the occasion to celebrate three incomparable volunteers with a combined 80-plus years of protecting and improving Bracken Bat Cave. They are (from left in the photo) Bob Cowell, Kurt Menking and Rick Corbel.
Bob has been protecting Bracken for more than 30 years, since well before BCI purchased the cave in 1992. He was there when the first trail was cleared in 1993. Kurt has also volunteered at the cave for three decades, helping with summer tours and work projects. His GIS-mapping skills have been invaluable for surveys of the preserve. Rick has worked tirelessly on a wide range of projects for more than 20 years and is often seen tinkering with assorted equipment to keep it running.
Fran Hutchins, BCI’s Bracken Bat Cave Coordinator, said, “BCI would have been hard-pressed to share this spectacular wonder of nature with its members without these guys, along with the thousands of volunteer hours that all of our volunteers put in each year.”