Journey North News

Greetings From Bat Conservation International!

Hi! My name is Janet Tyburec. I work at Bat Conservation International (BCI) where I am currently the Assistant Director of Conservation and Education. As you follow the lesser-long nosed bat migration this spring, I will tell you about some of the conservation issues facing these bats--and bats in general.

I got my start learning about bats while assisting with field work in a study about lesser long-nosed bats. We studied pollination activities of these bats in the saguaro, cardon, and organ pipe "forests" along the Sea of Cortez in western Mexico. Since that time I have learned a great deal more about many of the nearly 1,000 species of bats world wide. This knowledge has given me a great appreciation for the importance of bats to every habitat in which they occur.

Through field surveys, BCI has documented dramatic losses of these cave-dwelling bats that migrate annually between the United States and Mexico. One of the main reasons for this decline is due to a misunderstanding: Many bats are mistakenly identified as "vampires" and as a result are persecuted and often destroyed. In reality, there are only three species of vampire bats (out of over 300 species of Latin American bats), and they are rare in most areas. Nevertheless, their bad reputation has unjustly affected the health of bat populations South of the border. As a result, BCI is concentrating efforts in Mexico and Latin America to identify and protect winter roosts of migratory bats and to teach local communities on both sides of the border the value of protecting their seasonal neighbors. A newly established Program for the Conservation of Migratory Bats of Mexico and the U.S. unites federal agencies and private partners in documenting and supporting the conservation needs of our migratory bats.

Through my work at BCI I have helped to educate many people about the benefits of bats and in the process dispelled many myths about these long misunderstood mammals. For example:

* No bats are blind . . . most can actually see quite well.

* Bats do not become tangled in human hair . . . their sonar, or echo-location, abilities are far more sophisticated than man-made technologies and allow bats to navigate flawlessly in even pitch darkness.

* Bats are not vermin or rodents . . . they are no more likely to transmit disease to other animals or to humans than your pet dog.

In fact, bats are important contributors to global environmental health. A single little brown bat can catch 600 mosquitoes in just one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from 18-million or more root-worms each summer. Tropical bats are key elements in rain forest ecosystems, which rely on them to pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for countless trees and shrubs .. . and bats are directly responsible for over 95% of all rain forest re-growth in cleared areas. In the wild, important agricultural plants from bananas, breadfruit and mangoes, to cashews, dates and figs rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. Despite these facts, bats are among the most relentlessly persecuted animals on the planet. More than half of American bat species are in severe decline or already listed as endangered.

Bats have ruled the night skies for the past 50-million years and with help from BCI and its partners we will secure their future for the next millennium and beyond. I hope you will enjoy learning about bats through your studies with Journey North and that you will want to help spread the word about the importance of bats and join projects to ensure their conservation in the future.

As you track bat migration over the next weeks, keep track also of the many times you hear about people's fear of and dislike for bats. As a class, debate how these values effect the conservation of bats. (See the lesson on page 65 of the Journey North's Teacher's Manual called, "Cycling Through Controversy".)

Photo Credit: Merlin D. Tuttle,Bat Conservation International.

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