Leaves and temperatures have fallen across America, and millions of bats have begun their perilous journey south. Migratory bats face even greater challenges than other wildlife, since two governments, two cultures, and twice as many people must be convinced that bats are gentle and beneficial, rather than the menacing creatures of lore.
To meet this challenge, Bat Conservation International is launching a new effort to identify critical bat caves on private lands along la frontera, the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. In the year ahead, BCI staff will go into the field to identify the most critical caves and locate their owners. Many of these caves have never been visited by bat biologists, and the conservation potential is enormous. We will also educate owners of these caves in how best to manage their caves for bats.
Fern Cave near Del Rio, Texas, clearly demonstrates both the need and the potential of this conservation effort. The cave now houses some 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats – but 10 million or more once lived there. A BCI survey team last summer identified two obstacles to the bats’ full use of the cave. A shaft drilled by guano miners penetrates the main dome, allowing heat to escape and leaving the cave too cool to raise pups. In addition, vegetation partially obstructs the entrance, which increases mortality during emergences. Both problems are easily solved. By simply sealing the shaft and clearing brush from the entrance, this cave could once again shelter millions of bats! And this is but one of many caves along the border.