Merlin D. Tuttle
Founder and President Emeritus
Bat Conservation International
Merlin Tuttle says he founded Bat Conservation International in 1982 “as an act of desperation. It was obvious that without major improvement in public attitudes, the situation for bats would continue to worsen.”
At the time, he was Curator of Mammals at the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Public Museum. But Merlin had been studying bats and trying to protect them since 1959, when, as a high school student, he discovered a colony of gray myotis in Baloney Cave, near his Tennessee home. That teenage fascination led eventually to Merlin’s Ph.D. from the University of Kansas – and to a rich and productive career dedicated to bat conservation.
“Merlin Tuttle has probably directly contributed more than anyone else to the conservation of bats,” says Brock Fenton, Biology Chair at the University of Western Ontario. “Quite simply, he turned his fascination with them and his love of them into a lifelong campaign to effect their conservation at home and abroad. His name is, appropriately, synonymous with bats.”
He and BCI moved to Austin, Texas, in 1986 and his enthusiasm and tireless dedication built the organization in a worldwide force for bat conservation, education and research.
Battered by centuries of harmful myths and misinformation, bats were despised and casually slaughtered around the world. Merlin has made education – correcting those myths and teaching the economic and ecosystem benefits of bats – a major part of his and BCI’s conservation work.
And, distressed that most bat photographs showed roughly handled bats snarling in self-defense, Merlin taught himself photography. He became a world-class wildlife photographer whose images have appeared in books and magazines around the world and played a crucial part in BCI’s education efforts.
Merlin built BCI with a philosophy that emphasized cooperation over confrontation. He built alliances and partnerships with industry, government agencies and other organizations that led to enormous collaborative achievements. And his conservation legacy continues, as BCI moves confidently into the future.
Merlin has stepped back from his leadership of Bat Conservation International, but BCI is still fulfilling the mission he set for us.
Read about Merlin’s career and impact on bat conservation here (BATS, Summer 2009).