Bats by the millions routinely travel between Mexico and the United States. After wintering in Mexico, many bats, like the Mexican freetails, migrate northward to hunt plentiful insects, give birth and rear young. Others, such as the nectar-eating lesser long-nosed bats, follow the flowering of agave and other desert plants into the American Southwest. They return to Mexico in the fall.
To protect these border-crossing bats, BCI’s Borderlands Program is aiming a potent mix of research, education and targeted conservation projects at northern Mexico, while capitalizing on Mexico’s growing scientific expertise and conservation awareness.
Lead sponsors and partners of this vital, continuing effort include the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, The Offield Family Foundation, FONDO Mexicana, Pronatura Noreste, Instituto Tecnologico de Cd. Victoria, BCI Trustee Eugenio Clariond Reyes, David Garza Laguera and Don Virgilio Garza.
Two years into the project, much of the foundation has been laid, and initial successes point to great promise for the future.
Borderlands field crews have identified northern Mexico caves that, together, may once have sheltered tens of millions of bats. Among them is Cueva del Porvenir, probably one of the world’s largest bat roosts of the past. In most cases, only scattered remnants of these huge colonies survive. Human disturbance, improper guano mining and misguided efforts to control vampire bats have taken a terrible toll.
While BCI surveys continue to identify key past and present roost sites, Borderlands is also intensifying efforts to build alliances to protect these critical caves and to educate communities about the immense value of the bats in their areas.
Linking bat roosts to the direct economic benefits of ecotourism can work wonders. Mayor Roberto Tijerina of Candela signed a formal agreement with BCI to jointly manage the nearby Cueva del Consuelo, home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats now, and probably several times that number in the past.
The cave is alongside a developed recreation area, where camping, swimming and picnicking facilities are designed to draw tourists. Working with Spa Ojo Caliente, the town is building a viewing area where visitors can watch the bats’ impressive evening emergences and it is planning to promote the bats as a tourist attraction.
The project is a model that will demonstrate to other communities the value of protecting their bat roosts.
BCI scientists also worked with Don Virgilio Garza, owner of the Bioparque Estrella outside Monterrey on a new cave-like exhibit that features nectar-eating bats flying and feeding in a realistic setting. Educational displays dispel myths and describe the diversity and importance of bats. The exhibit, visited by more than 100,000 people during its first four months, will be an invaluable educational tool for many years.
Borderlands Co-coordinators Arnulfo Moreno and Cat Garcia-Kennedy have identified five key bat caves for special conservation assistance. Conservation and management plans are being developed, and implementation could begin at some caves during the coming year.
Protecting even a few of these important bat caves would contribute greatly to the repopulation and long-term conservation of the bats of northern Mexico.
To help protect the bats of the borderlands, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.