During a recent trip to New Zealand, I had the privilege of visiting one of that country's most important bat research projects. The bats live in the Eglinton Valley of Fiordland National Park, right in the heart of New Zealand's famed Milford Track hiking trail. The two species there – the long-tailed watled bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) and the lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata) – are in peril due to the prevalence of non-native species. Stoats, rats and other predators brought to New Zealand intentionally and unintentionally over the years prey on naive native birds and bats. Because the native animals did not co-evolve with – and thus learn to avoid – these invaders, the resulting predation has devastated populations of New Zealand's unique and rare animals.
Researchers from New Zealand's Department of Conservation are working hard to control these invasive species and to study the bats in order to save them. I spent an evening assisting field researchers in harp-trapping and banding long-tailed bats as part of a study to better understand their population size, habitat use and distribution trends. As New Zealand's only native mammals, bats are vital to the ecology and history of that island country.
It was wonderful to be involved in bat research again. My love of bats began many years ago, while working at the Philadelphia Zoo in the mid-1980s. During that time, I attended one of BCI's first Bat Conservation and Management Workshops, led by Dr. Brock Fenton, who now chairs the Biology Department at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Not only did the experience teach me a great deal about bats and field research, but it turned me into an avid fan of this important taxonomic group. I have worked on many meaningful wildlife-conservation programs over the years, but my passion has always remained with the Chiroptera.
So what a joy it is to be at the helm of Bat Conservation International, focusing full-time on the vital task of educating people about the importance of bats and supporting the conservation programs of BCI's dedicated and hard-working staff. I've known Merlin Tuttle for years and am honored to carry on the visionary work that he began 27 years ago.
We have our work cut out for us. White-nose Syndrome is devastating bat populations throughout the eastern United States and continues to spread. It was just confirmed in my home state of Maryland, the eleventh state to face the disease. But there are also exciting programs ripe for growth at BCI, such as our field workshops in Latin America, our efforts to protect bats in caves and mines across the United States, our artificial-roosts program and many, many more. We can't do this work without the support of our dedicated members, so I thank you for your own interest in helping bats. Together, we can make a difference for these magnificent animals.