The youngsters, some wearing elaborate bat costumes, waved their arms as part of a playful demonstration of how bats can fly. These schoolchildren are members of a new Bat Friends club at their school in Bryansk in western Russia, and this was their first-ever Festival of Bats. The festivities were remarkable for a country where bats are traditionally ignored – and not just by the public, but by most conservationists as well.
|Schoolchildren in Bryansk, Russia, "fly" like bats. Photo courtesy of Igor Prokofev.
The Russian conservation group Grassroots Alliance Peresevet is working to build a sustainable bat-conservation movement in western Russia by combining citizen science with extensive public education and training. This project was supported in part by a Global Grassroots Conservation Fund grant from Bat Conservation International.
The teams led by Peresevet founder and coordinator Igor Prokofev are working in four regions near Russia’s western border, an area that has been identified as one of the most important breeding and foraging areas for a number of Russian bat species.
But forest habitat has been lost at an alarming rate for many decades in western Russia. Although scientific data are generally scarce, the number and diversity of bat populations seem to be declining.
Prokofev said his group’s goal is to build a multifaceted approach to increase knowledge about bat populations, habitats and conservation status, build public awareness about the importance of bats and the need to protect them, and empower local communities and volunteers to monitor and conserve these animals. This is a pilot project that he hopes eventually to apply across much of the country.
The centerpiece is iBats, a citizen-science program developed in the United Kingdom by Bat Conservation Trust and the Zoological Society of London. iBats Russia is filling major gaps in knowledge about the distribution of bats in the study area.
Prokofev said volunteers drove their own cars, equipped with bat detectors, along prescribed routes, collecting bat calls as they went. “We collected a total of 50 hours of recordings, representing about 800 individual calls,” he said. “All 11 bat species known to occur in the region were recorded, and we have used our data to created a echolocation-call library that identifies unique call characteristics of each species.”
In addition to the invaluable data, the project is creating a corps of trained, local volunteers who are dedicated to conserving Russia’s bats.
Grassroots Alliance Peresevet also took its education efforts around the region, reaching more than 1,200 people who now have a rather different view of bats. Posters, banners and brochures describe the benefits of Russia’s bats, and educational materials are being used in schools.
And in the Bryansk region, the group helped build two model “bat-friendly gardens,” parklands with bat-accessible water features, plants that attract insects for bats to eat, bat houses for roosting and other features favored by flying mammals.
Protecting the forgotten bats of Russia is a huge task, and the work has only begun. But now, Prokofev says, “We are moving into the future with a new optimism.”
BCI members can read the whole story of this important effort to protect the bats of Russia in the Summer 2013 issue of BATS magazine.
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