Making a difference – leaving the world a little bit better than I found it – has always been important to me. It’s why I became a journalist and why I drifted into science writing by reporting on alternative energy sources during the oil crisis of 1973-74.
I became more focused about 35 years ago. As a young science writer for The Associated Press, I spent a day hiking around Southern California’s Mojave Desert with University of California scientist Wilbur Mayhew, an authority on the rather remarkable fringe-toed lizard. The fringe on its back feet creates a snowshoe effect so it can race over the loose sand. When it dives into the dunes to escape predators, overlapping jaws and flaps keep sand out of its mouth, nostrils, eyes and ears. Evolution has served this creature well.
The Mojave was barren and forbidding as we ventured into it. But with Mayhew, who was then about my current age (67), the desert came alive with wildlife and wonder. We never spotted a fringe-toed lizard, but Mayhew pointed out its tracks and waxed poetic. Magic was everywhere: centuries-old creosote bushes, rodents that escape the heat by hugging the walls of their underground burrows and the peculiar tracks of sidewinder rattlesnakes. He was fiercely committed to protecting all of that from encroaching urbanization.
Most details of that day have been lost to the passing years. But the sense of magic and the power of blending hard science with an unabashed love of nature profoundly influenced my career and my life. My science beat ranged from astronomy and space exploration, including the first landing of the Space Shuttle, to earthquakes and medical research, but I returned often to environmental issues. As I did when I joined Bat Conservation International 12 years ago.
I had never seen a bat up close and knew virtually nothing about these creatures. I came because I needed a job – and because here was a chance to make a difference. And indeed we have and will continue to do so.
Editing BATS was a crash course in bat biology, benefits and conservation. And it allowed me to work with wonderfully dedicated and dynamic people. That includes not only BCI’s incredible staff, but also scientists, conservationists and BCI members around the globe. It’s a very different world for bats than the one Merlin Tuttle faced when he founded BCI in 1982.
I have tried to share that sense of scientific insight, conservation commitment and the sheer magic of nature through our magazine. Filling its pages is surprisingly easy. Remarkable things are happening all over the world, often with BCI’s help. Our authors are among the most impressive people in the field, and working with them has been a great pleasure.
I have also been honored and humbled by overseeing BCI’s Student Research Scholarship Program and Global Grassroots Conservation Fund grants. I am amazed at the work these students undertake in virtually every corner of the world. Their achievements range from pushing the envelope of science and technology to first-ever diversity surveys and field studies of conservation status and ecosystem values.
Many of these young scientists have gone on to outstanding scientific careers and leadership positions. We now give scholarships to the students of previous BCI Scholars.
And I marvel that in countries where bats are so reviled that even the notion of protecting them must sound absurd, somehow someone emerges as a lone champion for bat conservation. A modest Global Grassroots grant for a local leader with a few volunteers can sometimes help grow a small but energetic conservation community. That “difference” has been made in Nepal, Ukraine, Colombia, Kenya and elsewhere.
As we grow older, we often reminisce about “the good ol’ days” and how much better things were back then. I suspect they were better mostly because we were young. I look at BCI and consider how much we and our colleagues and allies have accomplished over the years, and I am justifiably proud. But as BCI implements the Strategic Plan that will magnify its impact around the world, I am confident that the good ol’ days are yet to come.
I’ll be watching mostly from the sidelines. My retirement begins June 1.
Not long after joining BCI, by the way, I found myself thinking: “I’m pretty special: I appreciate and protect these underdog creatures that most people hate and fear.” Things are a lot better now, but I still believe that. We bat people really are special. Thank you all for those years of support.
Director of Publications
Small Grants Coordinator