Attitudes about bats in the Cayman Islands have changed dramatically since Lois Blumenthal began the National Trust Bat Conservation Program in 1994. Back then, they were called “rat-bats” and routinely exterminated. Today, pest-control companies exclude bats humanely from homes and buildings, and most residents of the three Cayman Islands have learned to appreciate the ecological and economic values of the nine bat species that are the islands’ only native mammals.
To accomplish this remarkable transformation, Blumenthal won the support of several major corporate partners. With their help, the Cayman Islands’ bat conservation program is the largest and most successful in the Caribbean. Partners include Caribbean Utilities Co. Ltd. (CUC), the Marriott Grand Cayman Beach Resort, Cayman Airways, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, and Truly Nolan (Reliable Industries, Grand Cayman).
She believes this cooperative success offers a model that can be reproduced throughout much of the Caribbean and beyond. “We don’t simply ask for funds,” she says, “but urge businesses to share both the projects and the credit.”
Bat houses are the core of the conservation work, the program now have more than 50 customized pairs of nursery houses (each capable of holding more than 300 bats) at strategic locations around the 75 square miles (196 square kilometers) of Grand Cayman.
CUC donates and installs the utility poles used to mount the bats houses. When Hurricane Ivan, one of the worst storms ever to sweep the Caribbean, battered the Cayman Islands with 155 mile-per-hour (260 kilometer-per-hour) winds for two days in September 2004, all the bat houses mounted on CUC utility poles survived – with the bats safely inside.
Blumenthal’s unique bat-house design was modified from BCI plans by local carpenter Ron Moser so it slips easily and firmly onto a utility pole, secured with bolts. They had been built by prison inmates, the government Public Works Department and volunteer carpenters. But thanks to the recent collaboration with Marriott Beach Resort, Blumenthal said, “we have again improved the design and are building 50 more bat houses, doubling the current number.” The Marriott is donating materials, as well as employee time and expertise.
As part of the Know Your Islands Program, the National Trust holds interpreted “fly-outs” as bats emerge from the bat houses for a night of hunting insects. Volunteers explain the benefits of tropical bats and serve bat-dependent drinks and snacks while people watch hundreds of Pallas’s mastiff bats swoop from their lofty home and disappear into the sunset. Both the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton now have their own bat houses, and the program is providing informative literature and interpreted “fly-outs” for hotel guests and tourists.
Meanwhile, Truly Nolan and the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, are co-sponsoring publication of Cayman Islands’ Bats Study Guide. Every teacher in every school in the country will receive a copy of this important resource, produced by the National Trust and integrated into the nation’s education curriculum. It is now also included in the Ritz-Carlton’s Jean-Michelle Cousteau Ambassadors for the Environment Program.
BCI Members can read the full story about Lois Blumenthal’s epic bat conservation work in the Cayman Islands in the Fall 20o7 issue of BATS magazine.