Dr. Jiri Gaisler, BCI's Scientific Advisory Board member from Czechoslovakia, recently visited the United States and Canada, hosted by BCI member, Dr. Gordon Kirkland, our North American Scientific Advisory Board members, Drs. Brock Fenton, Tom Kunz and Don Wilson, and by BCI. The trip resulted in a very useful exchange of knowledge.
A positive trend for the future of bats in Czechoslovakia has been building for the past 12 years. Key among the contributing factors is the legal protection afforded allbats and all caves.
It has long been recognized that cave protection is a critical step in bat management plans. While about 40 of Czechoslovakia's caves are open to tourists in the spring and summer, they are closed during the winter when disturbance of hibernating bats might be disastrous. Another 60 caves have been gated by speleological groups. Although a few older gates are nearly solid steel, most are now constructed to accommodate bats, and the older ones are rapidly being replaced with new bar designs to allow bats entry.
Even though commercial cave managers and speleological groups are required by government regulation to protect bats, cooperation is generally enthusiastic. Most Czechoslovakians are now relatively well informed about bat values and conservation needs and recognize and appreciate the need to protect them. While some unorganized cave explorers still vandalize bat caves, penalties are severe. Those caught harming bats are fined a thousand Crowns ($100 U.S.) per bat and are sometimes arrested as well.
In part, the impetus for these protective steps came about as the result of surveys conducted from 1949 to 1976 which showed a 70% decline in populations monitored in 18 caves and mines. As a result, banding of hibernating bats by researchers was completely terminated in 1980, since such disturbance was seen to be at least one major factor contributing to the decline.
Education and protection are paying off. The Nature Conservancy, a Czech government agency, distributes leaflets to all organized caving groups detailing how to protect bats. Such cooperation, combined with extensive public education measures to protect bat roosting sites, is resulting in commendable progress.
One of the biggest success stories is that of the large Mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis). Its populations have recovered to the extent that their numbers now exceed those reported in the 1960's and are nearly as large as any previously known. Most others, such as the Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), have stabilized, but have not increased. Nearly 100 caves and mines are now monitored annually in Czechoslovakia by official groups of volunteers. Each group is led by a professional, the overall program coordinated by Dr. Gaisler, Dr. Vladimir Hanak and by one of Dr. Gaisler's former students, Dr. Miroslav Kovarik.
Dr. Gaisler is personally very active in bat conservation, serving as BCI's liaison with other eastern European bat researchers, and spearheading much of the country's educational effort. He has presented BCI's slide program, "Bats: Myth and Reality," to most major conservation and scientific organizations in the country and to many public groups, appearing regularly on national television, as well as Brno Radio. He is currently writing a book on mammals of the world as well as a book on bats titled, "The Night is their Kingdom."
In addition to assisting with Dr. Gaisler's travel expenses, BCI was able to further assist progress in Czechoslovakia through the donation of a QMC Mini Bat Detector for use in censusing tree-dwelling bats and by providing previously unavailable scientific reprints.
Jiri Gaisler first explored this cave over twenty years ago. Surveys this past winter revealed that several species of bats are still using it for hibernation.