An assortment of bats, their natural habitats disappearing, now share the cities of Romania with human urban-dwellers. But most Romanians detest their new neighbors. With little accurate information available, old myths breed baseless fears, and bats are deliberately killed whenever possible. Newspapers recently praised the killing of more than 200 bats when a stadium was remodeled.
But with the support of a grant from BCI’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund, a group in the city of Cluj-Napoca is championing the cause of bats, and supplanting dangerous misinformation with knowledge of the many benefits of bats. The Focal Centre for Biodiversity and Monitoring mounted an aggressive campaign of public education, even offering free help in humane exclusions from buildings.
And in a dramatic stroke, the group is training youngsters to take to the streets in bat costumes to educate their elders. The public-education drive still faces great challenges, but at least some city dwellers are beginning to get the message. And now local newspapers and television programs are noticing the children’s efforts and sharing their message with the public.
At least eight species of bats inhabit homes, buildings, stadiums and bridges in Cluj-Napoca, abut 200 miles (400 kilometers) northwest of Bucharest. They forage along city streets, rivers and lakes and in the green areas that surround the city. Their survival depends on the critical habitats they find in human-made structures.
But the Centre’s research finds that adults and children alike are convinced that bats attack people and become tangled in their hair. Most consider bats disgusting and favor killing them. By providing basic facts about bats, the Centre hopes to pave the way for much broader conservation efforts.
A bat-information center was established in downtown Cluj-Napoca, and publicized with fliers, posters and other announcements on local radio and television stations. Only a few people sought help in dealing with bats in their homes, but even that is considered quite an achievement in Romania.
Most education efforts are aimed at children, whose attitudes are less firmly fixed. One especially effective project trained a class of 29 children, dressed them in simple bat costumes and took them to city sidewalks to hand out fliers and answer questions. The youngsters clearly charmed most of the adults they encountered. And the media praised their efforts.
The group says it did not expect miracles, and found none. But the number of people seeking information or help with bats is definitely increasing. And the effort continues.
You can help support local bat conservation efforts like this one around the world by contributing to the Global Grassroots Conservation Fund. Please contact BCI’s Department of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.