Keith Christenson’s wife, Jen, represents the United States in various countries as a State Department official. Keith represents bats.
A caving enthusiast whose encounters with bats and BCI convinced him to become a bat biologist, Christenson discovered and documented bat caves, advised wildlife agencies, and educated people from Cuba to Africa on the importance of bats to economic and environmental health. Much of that was done on his own during his travels as a “diplomatic spouse.”
For his accomplishments as a dedicated, if unofficial, bat ambassador, Bat Conservation International recognizes Keith Christenson as the Bat Conservationist of the Year for 2003.
Christenson, a BCI member since 1994, describes his educational history as “checkered.” He went to Pennsylvania State University in 1983 for an aerospace engineering degree, a plan that didn’t work out. About eight years later, the amateur caver encountered Jim Kennedy, now BCI’s Cave Resources Specialist, and found his interests focusing on bats and other small, cave-dwelling mammals. Landing a job with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Christenson worked with longtime BCI partner Cal Butchkoski and “quickly realized that working with bats was my calling.”
He returned to Penn State, earning a bachelor’s and later a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science. “My interest in bats had always been high, but after Merlin Tuttle and Janet Tyburec began holding bat workshops in Pennsylvania, I was hooked forever.” He participated as a facilitator at several of the workshops during his highly productive six years with the Game Commission.
Then he married Jen and promptly found himself living in the Dominican Republic. Over the next two years, on a purely volunteer basis, he visited 200 caves, documented bats in almost 100 of them, and wrote conservation reports for the national parks agency. He kept it up after moving to Panama and later Zambia, and also made working visits to Peru and Cuba.
Everywhere he went, Christenson identified caves used by bats, educated communities and officials about the values and needs of bats, and provided government agencies with information that is essential for protecting cave-dwelling bats.
The family recently returned to the United States, living now in the Washington, D.C., area, where this ambassador for bats is still on the job.