Bat conservation today depends in large part on pursuing the scientific knowledge needed to convince an often-dubious world that bats are worth protecting and on crafting strategies for that protection. The future will depend on developing new generations of wildlife scientists who are committed to bats and educated in conservation. BCI's scholarship program is meeting both challenges.
From its formal introduction in 1990 through this year, the BCI Student Scholarship Program has awarded 158 scholarships totaling $344,560 to help graduate students do research in 44 countries.
BCI scholars have studied hundreds of bat species from the United States and Uganda to Belgium and Bolivia, touching every continent but Antarctica. Their research explores the vital roles of bats in pollination, seed dispersal, pest control, and biodiversity; species-specific life cycles and the impact of human encroachment; roosting habits and artificial roosts; and many other topics related to bat conservation.
Individual awards, selected by peer review by top authorities, range from $1,000 to $2,500 and average about $2,000 each. One goal of the awards is to open opportunities for matching grants from other sources. BCI scholarships have been matched with outside funding at a ratio of 11 to 1 for a total of $2.29 million in support of student research.
Many of our scholars already have become key players in conservation around the world, while others are well on their way to making lasting contributions.
Consider the career of BCI's first scholarship recipient. Surapon Duangkhae of Thailand, worked with Merlin Tuttle on BCI's earliest international campaign, an effort that won protection for two critical Thai bat colonies in 1982. That experience ignited a deep interest in bat conservation and, before the formal scholarship program began, BCI arranged a grant to help Surapon earn a 1986 master's degree in environmental biology from Mahidol University in Bangkok.
Today Surapon, his nation's top bat biologist, is Secretary General of the Wildlife Fund Thailand and one of the most influential conservationists in Southeast Asia. He helps mold conservation policy throughout the region and his views are often sought by the media. BCI's rather small investment a decade and a half ago is paying enormous dividends for wildlife, including bats.
BCI Scholar Arnulfo Moreno, here rappelling into a cave to study bats, has become a leader in the U.S.-Mexico Program for the Conservation of Migratory Bats.
Here's a sampling of other BCI Scholars who are contributing greatly to progress and the future:
Four BCI research scholarships over five years helped Michelle Evelyn earn a Ph.D. at Stanford University. Along the way, she documented the critical importance of fruit-eating bats in regenerating Mexican forests and highlighted strategies for their conservation when slash-and-burn agriculture clears their forests.
Evelyn worked tirelessly to explain her findings and their importance to area farmers and to enlist their help in bat conservation. With help from her husband/colleague, David Stiles, she also collaborated with environmental artist Lynne Hull to produce an educational comic book in Spanish and English to explain the importance of local bats to schoolchildren.
The young biologist continues her career commitment to bat research and conservation, most recently by studying the roosting requirements of forest-dwelling bats at Stanford's Jasper Ridge nature preserve. She is currently writing grant proposals to study the Keen's myotis (Myotis keenii), a little-known bat that has a narrow West Coast range from Washington to Alaska.
Arnulfo Moreno's prolific partnership with BCI -- and his unflagging support for Mexico's bats and their habitats -- began in 1990, with a BCI-funded project to determine the status of the 10 most important roosting caves of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) known in Mexico.
His alarming findings left no doubt that conservation was urgently needed. Half the caves he visited, each of which had once contained millions of free-tails, had lost 95 to 100
percent of their bats. Moreno went to work with a vengeance. Armed with educational materials and funding from BCI, he visited government agencies across northern Mexico, provided school programs, and distributed vampire-control advice to ranchers.
With BCI scholarships supporting his research on endangered Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris nivalis), Moreno earned his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University in 2000. His work has contributed greatly to our understanding of the conservation needs of these important desert pollinators.
Moreno today is an associate professor at the Technological Institute of Ciudad Victoria in Tamaulipas, Mexico. He serves on BCI's Scientific Advisory Board and is a leader of the U.S.-Mexico Programa para la Conservacion de los Murcielagos Migratorios (Program for the Conservation of Migratory Bats) in northern Mexico. He also wrote the book, Murcielagos de Nuevo Leon: Nuestros Invaluables Aliados (Bats of Nuevo Leon: Our Invaluable Allies).
His efforts have protected critical ecosystems and saved countless bats, and his career has decades yet to run.
The Conservation and Research Association of Peru, known as CONATURA, is a vigorous and wide-ranging advocate for community-based conservation in the high Andes. With educational programs, research efforts, community collaborations, and training projects, CONATURA works to conserve Peru's biological diversity while improving the rural standard of living through low-tech and sustainable use of resources. It is run by Catherine Sahley.
BCI pitched in early in Sahley's career, well before she became executive director of the innovative nonprofit, with scholarships in 1990 and Ô91 for her important doctoral research. She showed that the endangered Peruvian long-nosed bat (Platalina genovensium) is the primary pollinator of a key Andean cactus upon which many desert birds and rodents rely.
Her conservation philosophy was taking root then, as she worked to educate local residents and industry on the importance of protecting beneficial bats of the high country.
Sahley, based in Arequipa, Peru, is also a research associate of the Wildlife Conservation Society and recently spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Florida's Tropical Conservation and Development Program.
The fruit bats of India are important -- often essential -- for pollinating and dispersing the seeds of more than 114 species of plants, many of them of great economic, ecological, medicinal, and even religious import. But since hardly anyone knew that, these vital animals have for years been classified as vermin and denied even a hint of protection.
A handful of pioneering researchers, including BCI scholarship recipient Shahroukh Mistry, began studying India's bats in earnest barely a decade ago. Mistry used BCI scholarships in 1992 and 1994 to document the economic value of Indian fruit bats, as well as their declining numbers, and to educate students and communities about the need for bat conservation. The research, which led to his Ph.D. degree from the University of New Mexico, would not have been possible, he said, without BCI's support.
Mistry, now an Assistant Professor of Biology at Grinnell College in Iowa, is still studying Indian bats and working for their protection. After years of effort by Mistry, his colleagues, and BCI, change may finally be at hand: India is revamping its Wildlife Protection Act, and a proposal to remove bats from the vermin category and give them their first legal protection is reportedly gaining favor.