At 8:15 on a Saturday morning the phone rings at Bat Conservation International. A caller timidly asks "Are you the bat people?" "Yes,"comes the reply from a staff member trying to do some weekend catch-up. "I live in northern Ohio,"the caller pauses, "can you please send someone to get the bats out of my attic?" "Well, no sir, but I can tell you how to do it yourself. How many bats are we talking about?" Gaining in confidence, the caller replies, "The exterminator told me about 200 or more. Is that possible?" While secretly envying the good fortune of the caller, the staff member recognizes that most people would consider this a problem. Bats in buildings are usually unwelcome as house guests and can be a nuisance, particularly when hundreds roost in one spot.
Providing accurate information about bats is one of the primary charges of BCI. Education, BCI's largest program category, encompasses a diverse array of services (including helping callers with bats in their attic). Expenditures for education accounted for 35% of last year's budget and are projected to reach 50% this year.
BCI processes, on average, over 4,000 requests for information or other assistance each month, both written and by phone. Of these, requests for general information make up the bulk. While we are able to answer most requests with one or more pre-printed responses, cost in terms of time, printing and postage is still substantial. Three hundred or more queries each month demand personal attention and range from pleas for assistance in local conservation issues to specialized scientific requests. These come from all over the world and generally require the time of Founder and Science Director, Merlin Tuttle, or Associate Science Director, Paul Robertson.
BCI's science staff also receives daily requests for review of materials such as textbook chapters, articles for magazines, scripts for educational programs, and conservation proposals. Other professionals consult with BCI on research and conservation projects worldwide. Maintaining the most comprehensive computerized bibliographic data base available on bats enables BCI to serve as a clearing house for information. With over 8,000 entries, the data base is a compilation of scientific papers and popular literature on bats around the globe.
Conservation science is one of BCI's broad program categories, one that includes implementation of critical conservation projects and targeting others for action. BCI undertakes certain projects itself and also coordinates with other agencies, organizations and individuals, identifying areas and problems that need attention. During the past month, such activities ranged from providing congressional testimony in Washington, DC to meeting with owners of a major bat cave in need of protection.
BCI also makes full use of various popular media for educational outreach. Requests for articles and interviews provide the organization with an opportunity for broad impact and exposure. Numerous interviews radio, TV, newspaper and magazine are given each year, and fall is expected to bring a new flurry as Halloween approaches. PBS' popular program, Wild America, will begin filming a segment on bats with BCI next spring. Other television projects include preliminary discussions with a major network for a special on bats, and a proposal for another National Geographic Explorer segment, this time on endangered flying foxes of the Pacific. Taken as an opportunity to highlight a positive image of bats, each of these media events educates a large audience to the importance of bats as well as to their crucial role in the balance of nature. BCI reaches hundreds of millions of people in this manner.
Merlin Tuttle's photographs make an essential contribution to BCI's educational efforts and are in great demand. Mari Murphy, Publications Coordinator and Editor of BATS, manages the collection of over 60,000 slides, depicting hundreds of bat species representing every continent. This constitutes the world's largest collection of its kind. Photographs are requested for use throughout the world in magazines, popular books, textbooks and encyclopedias, newspapers, classroom filmstrips, and for exhibits and educational programming. Through pictures and BCI's accompanying information, bats are gaining a positive image.
This unique collection serves to document and verify scientific discoveries as well. Activities such as pollination, seed dispersal and behavioral traits are visually documented often for the first time. Photos sometimes play a deciding factor in gaining protection for endangered species or its habitat.
Photographs are also essential to BCI's publications, which are designed and produced "in house" including our quarterly, BATS, "The Importance of Bats,"and all brochures. Such publications provide accurate information about bats and conservation to the general public, educators, the media and conservation planners, among many others. This information is not available from any other single source.
And what about our caller? Offered a safe and effective means of evicting his unwanted tenants, BCI was able to provide him with a responsible solution to the problem before the exterminator implemented his. Thanks to BCI-funded education programs and information, this small group of bats will roost again next spring. Let's hope they're headed your way!