Volume 34, Issue 2, Spring 2015

Giving Bats a Voice


Iroro Tanshi, a doctoral student in the Kingston lab at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, is interested in the ecology and species distribution of bats in her native Nigeria. She is also a strong advocate for environmental education and engages with local communities and government agencies in her homeland.

Bats: How did you become interested in bats?

Tanshi: I always had an interest in nature, but I wasn’t focused on bats until I attended a short course in Uganda in 2010. There, I learned about bat-pollination systems found in West Africa. It was fascinating to me that scientists would climb high up in the canopy at night to collect nectar scents in an attempt to determine what the bats were feeding on. That was exciting for me—I thought if an interest in bats could lead you to explore all sorts of environments and habitats, then that is what I want to do.

Another key reason I started to research bats was BCI’s support. After I returned home from the course, I learned that bat research in Nigeria was limited. A colleague, however, mentioned the student grants offered by BCI and its interest in supporting research in Africa. Suddenly, my decision to study bats became easy. BCI supported my master’s research, which was my first bat project, on the species richness of bats between different forest and savanna habitat types in Nigeria.

 

Bats: What has been your most amazing bats experience to date?

Tanshi: My favorite bat species is the yellow-winged bat, Lavia frons. It is the prettiest bat I have ever seen. The first time I came across this bat was in 2011 during my master’s research, where I was surveying in Okomu National Park in Nigeria. On the last day of a two-week field visit, just before dawn, my team and I were exhausted from trapping bats all night. All we wanted to do was to close the nets and go to bed. But all that changed when this grey-furred bat with pretty yellow wings showed up in our net. Suddenly, the tiredness turned to excitement and curiosity; our sleepy eyes were overcome by an uncontrollable need to stare at this stunning creature. Even my “unbelieving” field assistants accepted then that bats are beautiful. I hadn’t seen colored pictures of bats at the time, so I had no idea bats could be that beautiful. I was thrilled about the catch to say the least—I couldn’t stop talking about it

for weeks.

 

Bats: How do people in Nigeria view bats?

Tanshi: In Nigeria, people hold varied opinions about bats. Some traditions consider it a good omen to have bats in your backyards, but the majority of people don’t really understand bats. As part of my outreach efforts, I would talk to many different people who usually had no knowledge about bats or only very vague experiences with them. There are all sorts of myths in local folklore about bats being witches or evil spirits. Some cultures in Nigeria also use bats in traditional medicine, usually in the forms of charms, locally known as juju. While some people do understand that bats contribute to our ecosystems, the majority of people, from professionals to people on the street, know very little about these animals. By speaking to local people I realized the need for studying bats and also educating people. I considered education to be an important part of my field projects. 

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