Bat guano is a terrific natural fertilizer that has been mined around the world for centuries. It’s still mined in North America, but only for a niche market. Yet guano remains a critical resource – both commercially and for subsistence farming – in much of the developing world, where mining technology often means strong backs and shovels.
|Explaining guidelines for safe guano harvesting to a Cambodian guano miner. Photo courtesy of Ryan Richards
But improper guano mining can be devastating to bats and without bats, there would be no guano for the miners.
Guano extraction often introduces loud noises, bright lights and changes in air temperature when cave entrances or chambers are modified. Such things can cause mothers to drop their pups or hibernating bats to awaken and burn essential energy stores. They sometimes cause bats to abandon the cave. Harvesting can also pose threats to the miners because, without proper ventilation or respirator masks, they can be exposed to airborne diseases often found in such caves.
Many conservationists have for years stressed the need for science-based guidelines to minimize that risk.
Developing those guidelines, with the direct support of Bat Conservation International, was a project of the “Bat Conservation Team,” part of an innovative training program known as Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (or EWCL). The program is sponsored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, White Oak Conservation Center/Howard Gilman Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Network, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Defenders of Wildlife.
Every two years, the EWCL selects a cohort of budding professionals and provides intensive training in conservation action and other skills, then mentors them through a two-year international wildlife conservation campaign. The young conservationists of the EWCL class of 2010 included Danielle Brigida, Ryan Richards, Kate Gersh, Mathilde Iweins, Alli Sribarra and Crystal DiMiceli.
Now, the team has produced a working draft of the first international guidelines for safe and sustainable guano mining. DiMiceli said the proposed guidelines are aimed primarily at cave managers, government agencies and guano-harvesting companies. And although they initially focus on Southeast Asian countries, the ultimate goal is to improve guano-mining practices worldwide.
Team members studied existing research results and worked with an international advisory committee of bat biologists in developing the draft guidelines.
The most important elements are described in easy-to-understand illustrated posters. The proposed guidelines were presented to the bat community at last year’s Southeast Asian Bat Conservation Research Unit’s (SEABCRU) annual conference in Thailand, then successfully field-tested in Cambodia.
The guidelines remain voluntary for now, but DiMiceli said the team hopes they will lead eventually to legislation in many countries. Meanwhile, the bat team and others are introducing and testing the guidelines around Southeast Asia, and the future is looking brighter for both cave bats and guano miners.
BCI Members can read the full story of the first proposed guano-mining guidelines in the Winter 2012 issue of BATS magazine.