A handful of children, with bat masks on their heads and their arms outstretched, walk gingerly across the field. Each youngster hopes to avoid dumping the ping-pong ball that rides precariously in a spoon held by clenched teeth. If they get the ball into a basket, the children are rewarded with candy.
The kids, some as young as 4, are pretending to be bats. The ping-pong ball stands in for pollen, the basket for a banana flower and the candy is the sweet nectar that rewards pollinating bats. So goes a lesson at Quebrada Seca school in rural Colombia.
Sergio Estrada Villegas, Leonardo Martínez Luque and their colleagues at Fundación Chimbilako are teaching children and their teachers about the importance of bats. They hope that as the children learn more about bats, they and their families will be more inclined to protect nearby Macaregua Cave, an important maternity roost for Trinidadian funnel-eared bats.
The nonprofit foundation was created at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2004 to study the nation’s biodiversity, with an emphasis on bats. It undertook this important educational effort with a grant from Bat Conservation International’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund.
Colombia is a bat-diversity hot spot, with 178 bat species documented within its borders. Yet basic bat biology and diversity are rarely taught in Colombian schools, so harmful myths often are the only information available to children. To correct those falsehoods, Fundación Chimbilako planned to show children the similarities between their own experiences and those of bats and to explain the important services that bats provide for their community.
With the help of pictures and detailed descriptions of various bats, the conservationists were able to modify some of the students’ erroneous beliefs. Children colored and decorated illustrations of bats, paying particular note to their external anatomy. The youngsters recognized the similarities between bats and themselves, such as the eyes, the hidden arms and fingers that support the wings.
A separate workshop focused on bats’ ecological services. Explaining bat pollination was a special challenge, since few students were aware of the process. The homegrown conservationists built their explanations around the children’s familiarity with the rural environment to show how pollen, nectar and flower shape are critical aspects of bat pollination. That’s where the game of ping-pong balls came in. Afterwards, children were able to describe how bats benefit humans by helping to produce fruit and seeds and by protecting plantations from harmful insects.
BCI Members can read the whole story about bat-education in Colombia in the Spring 2008 issue of BATS magazine. You can help support local bat-conservation programs around the world by contributing to BCI’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.