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VOLUME 31, NO. 4 Winter 2013


A Bold Path for the Future

The last echolocation call ever heard from the Christmas Island pipistrelle was recorded on August 26, 2009. Then the once-abundant species, named for the Australian island that was its only home, fell forever silent – the most recent bat species to go extinct. The alarm had been raised and a rescue plan proposed. But action came too late. By the time a full response was authorized, the Christmas Island pipistrelle was gone.

“Without a champion,” concluded Dr. Tara Martin of Australia’s national science agency, “species will continue to fall through the cracks.” Bat Conservation International is committed through its new five-year Strategic Plan to being that champion for bat species throughout the world.

BCI’s staff and Board of Directors developed this Strategic Plan as a road map to focus our priorities and expand our impact around the world through 2018 and beyond. These carefully developed priorities and goals will guide BCI in its mission to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystems.

BCI will transform itself into a true global leader in bat conservation by taking our work to a much greater scale and impact. We will work to prevent further extinctions of bat species, identify and protect the world’s most Significant Bat Areas, empower communities, build local conservation capacity, nurture (future science and conservation leaders and build a comprehensive database that drives bat conservation worldwide.

With a 30-year history of international conservation and an expanding network of partners and allies, BCI is uniquely positioned to lead this global effort. Increasingly, our staff and Directors will more fully reflect this global commitment.

Bats of some 1,300 species are critical contributors to healthy natural environments and human economies on every continent but Antarctica. They consume crop-destroying insects, pollinate valuable plants and scatter seeds to regrow damaged forests. Yet almost everywhere, bats face a rogues’ gallery of threats.

Loss of habitat to human activities remains the most widespread peril. But bats are still casually killed because of harmful myths and misplaced fears. They are hunted for food and folk medicine, and their caves are disturbed by improper guano mining and thoughtless tourism. Bats are vulnerable to many invasive species. More recently, White-nose Syndrome, a disease caused by an introduced fungus, has killed millions of North American bats since 2006. Meanwhile, collisions with wind-energy turbines are taking an increasing toll around the world. And looming on the horizon is climate change, which already threatens to disrupt the life cycles of insects and plants on which bats depend and to degrade roost sites and water sources.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 26 bat species as Critically Endangered with an extreme risk of extinction and 52 others as Endangered. Another 94 bat species are considered Vulnerable, while 203 bat species are listed as “Data Deficient”– there is simply too little information available to determine their conservation status.

Because bats reproduce slowly, with females of most species giving birth to a single pup per year, populations are especially vulnerable to the deaths of breeding-age adults. Recovery from serious losses is painfully slow and tenuous at best. It is often difficult to spot significant declines in such species until their situation is dire.

BCI is partnering with Washington, D.C.-based NatureServe to create the world’s first comprehensive database for bat species’ distribution, population size, habitat needs, ecology and threats. We will serve as a Conservation Data Center for bats, the first organized under NatureServe for a specific taxon, and work with other databases, conservation groups, researchers and scientific networks worldwide to populate this global bat inventory, which will provide a powerful tool for prioritizing conservation, making land-use decisions and detecting early declines in populations.

Our global bat database will help identify critical gaps in our knowledge of priority bat species, gaps that BCI will work with partners to fill through grants and scholarships programs, rapid ecological assessments and other strategies. These efforts will include research to document the vital ecosystem services that bats provide and their direct economic value to agriculture and forestry, information that makes a powerful argument for their conservation.

BCI will also stimulate the development and improvement of new technologies for research and monitoring of bat populations. We continue working with diverse partners to perfect acoustic deterrents to minimize bat mortality at wind-energy facilities. And lighter, more powerful GPS transmitters would allow scientists to track smaller bats across large distances. New or improved methods for accurately counting large numbers of bats without intruding into hibernacula or maternity roosts would help us better monitor population trends. BCI will also work with both nonprofit and commercial partners to develop consumer-friendly bat detectors and identification devices to popularize bat watching and advance citizen science for bats.

In the debate over bats as vectors and reservoirs of zoonotic diseases, BCI will become a leading advocate for a balanced “One Health” approach, which recognizes that the health of humans, animals and the environment are inextricably linked. BCI must be a voice of moderation in this debate, spurring research on the most pressing bat and human health issues and arguing for practical, affordable means to safeguard bat habitats, minimize bat-human interactions and avoid the indiscriminant killing of bats as pests.

No longer is it enough to protect individual caves, roosts and colonies. Bats often have complex social interactions, and species vary greatly in their habitat needs. Bats often range over many miles on their nightly foraging flights and migratory species can cover hundreds, even thousands, of miles along their seasonal routes, often ignoring international boundaries.

Effective bat conservation, therefore, must consider each species’ roosting and foraging requirements, as well as roosting, foraging and watering needs along migratory paths. BCI will work at a landscape level to protect an entire population’s colonies and habitats. In the case of migratory bats, our conservation target areas will expand dramatically, sometimes reaching hemispheric levels.

This will be reflected in the selection of Significant Bat Areas. We will launch intensive on-the-ground conservation efforts by BCI and our partners and work with local com­munities and leaders to educate residents about the value and needs of bats and build a commitment to protect their bats and bat habitats.

Some threats defy geographic boundaries and impact multiple species across large portions of the world. White-nose Syndrome and wind energy are two examples. BCI will work at scale to minimize such threats and to quickly identify and deal with new ones.

Meeting such vast challenges and preventing the destruction of critical habitats will require the coordinated efforts of a wide array of partners and colleagues at almost every level of governments, decision makers, nonprofits and industries, along with such international development agencies as the World Bank. BCI will build these partnerships and also work to engage existing regional bat science and conservation networks. Our ultimate goal is a bat-conservation movement that spans the globe.

Permanent, self-sustaining bat conservation also requires empowering local conservationists and organizations and nurturing new generations of bat biologists who will continue and magnify these efforts far into the future. BCI will expand its conservation grants and Student Research Scholarship programs. And we will launch new initiatives to strengthen local groups and support talented young scientists who will lead the way for years to come.

Achieving these vital, worldwide goals will require a significant increase in support, and BCI will expand and improve its fundraising from public and private sources. We must also enhance our outreach to educate not dozens of people but thousands, even millions.

These clearly are very ambitious goals. But they can be achieved if Bat Conservation International and its many members and friends commit to this Strategic Plan for the next five years and for many years beyond.

The world can become a safer place for bats.

 

Sidebar:
Significant Bat Areas
Prioritizing bat conservation around the world

The heart of BCI’s Strategic Plan is the concept of Significant Bat Areas (SBAs), landscapes throughout the world where especially important bat species and/or populations face broad or imminent threats. Our wide-ranging conservation efforts will largely focus on these key sites.

Working with an array of partners, BCI will identify and protect SBAs through science-based conservation plans designed for lasting protection and management of critical species, habitats and migratory routes. We will pursue breakthrough conservation strategies that can be applied at scale across multiple SBAs. Our goal: by 2025, Bat Conservation International will have conservation action plans in place for 150 SBAs and will have protected viable populations of priority bat species at 50 of them.

The identification and prioritization of Significant Bat Areas will be based on the presence of:

1. One or more globally threatened bat species, especially those listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

2. High concentrations of bat species in areas of major ecological integrity.

3. Mega-populations of bats, including areas that harbor a high percentage of the total population of a species (such as major hibernacula or migratory concentrations).

4. Bat species that are geographically restricted, either permanently or periodically, and therefore especially vulnerable to habitat degradation and loss.

For many threatened species and SBAs, local support and commitment are essential for long-term conservation. BCI and its partners will work with schools, civic leaders, community groups, local officials and others to build appreciation for the benefits of bats, end harmful practices and foster a lasting sense of community pride in the SBA and its bats. Where appropriate, we will work with local communities to create economic incentives, such as ecotourism, compatible guano harvesting and other endeavors, for conserving bats.

We will also increase acquisition of critical habitat and the creation of new public parks and preserves to protect bats.

Our Field Training Workshops will be closely tied to the conservation of Significant Bat Areas, delivering hands-on training to targeted communities, conservationists, students and scientists to build their capacity to lead conservation initiatives.

Strategic Bat Areas are a key tool for building sustainable conservation that will ensure healthy natural ecosystems and human economies for generations to come.

 

Sidebar:

Critical Conservation Strategies

Bat Conservation International will maximize its conservation impact by focusing on these ten critical conservation strategies that form the core of its five-year Strategic Plan:

1. Accelerate Scientific Research

Effective conservation is built upon a sound scientific understanding of the biology, range, habitats, threats and conservation status of each species. But bats are difficult to study and huge gaps in our knowledge persist. BCI is committed to working with international partners to begin filling those critical gaps to enhance bat conservation worldwide. To help build public support for bat conservation, BCI will stimulate research that further documents the immense economic and ecological value of bats.

2. Prevent Extinctions

Bats are an essential, but often unappreciated, part of healthy ecosystems and economies around the world. If bat species disappear, we will all pay a heavy price for the loss of insect control, plant pollination or seed-dispersal services. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists at least 78 bat species as Endangered or Critically Endangered. BCI will work with the IUCN and many other partners worldwide to halt the decline and begin recovery for the world’s most endangered species.

3. Protect Areas of High Bat Diversity

To protect the maximum number of bat species in the most efficient and timely way, BCI will identify and protect landscapes of high ecological integrity and a rich diversity of bat species, regardless of their current conservation status.

4. Preserve Mega-Populations of Bats

Bats’ importance to their ecosystems is difficult to overstate. This is particularly true where bat populations number in the millions, such as the Mexican free-tailed bats of the Texas Hill Country and straw-colored fruit bats of Africa. These mega-populations are crucial to the health of their habitats, and their loss would have profound consequences for agriculture, forestry and natural ecosystems. Such populations also hold significant potential for educating the public. BCI will identify and protect mega-populations of bats wherever they are found, including areas that support a high percentage of a species’ total population.

5. Forge Global Strategies & Partnerships

Arresting and reversing the decline of bats requires an integrated global effort. BCI will forge partnerships with the World Bank and other international development agencies and with the resource-extraction and energy industries to prevent the loss of habitat for priority species. BCI will also work collaboratively to strengthen existing regional bat conservation and scientific networks with the ultimate goal of building a unified global bat federation.

6. Address Threats Impacting Multiple Species at Multiple Sites

White-nose Syndrome and wind-energy facilities are among a number of severe threats that imperil multiple bat species across large portions of the world.  BCI will work at scale to develop strategies for minimizing such current and future threats.

7. Promote Community-Based Conservation of Bats

Conservation is ultimately local. BCI will work to strengthen the capacity of local organizations and communities to protect globally threatened bat species and important Significant Bat Areas. Much of BCI’s education and marketing will take place at the community level.

8. Create and Help Enforce Legal & Policy Frameworks

Outside of Western Europe, bats have few legal protections and are legally classified as vermin in some countries. BCI will build public understanding and support for bats and work to create greater regulatory and legal safeguards in the places we work, with the long-term goal of creating an international bat conservation treaty.

9. Help Develop and Perfect Important Technologies

BCI will help identify needed technologies and work with the scientific community and the nonprofit and for-profit sectors to develop and perfect them. These include GPS transmitters to track small, insectivorous bats across large landscapes and along migration routes; effective acoustic deterrents to minimize bat fatalities at wind turbines; and consumer-friendly bat detection and identification devices.

10. Invest in Tomorrow’s Conservation Leaders

One of BCI’s greatest impacts grows from its support of promising students and young scientists who have emerged as leaders in the study and conservation of bats. BCI will expand its scholarship program and launch new initiatives to create and support a new generation of talented young researchers and conservationists dedicated to the lasting survival of the world’s 1,300+ species of bats.

 

You’ll find BCI’s Strategic Plan at www.batcon.org/strategicplan

Top of page View as PDF
 
All articles in this issue:
Bats in the Burns
Five ‘Cryptic’ Bats for West Africa
The Memo from Our Executive Director
News & Notes
The Surprising Social Calls of a ‘Solitary’ Bat
A Bold Path for the Future
The Wish List

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