“There are few places in the world where [bats] are more popular than the southwestern U.S. city of Austin, Texas, home of the world's largest urban bat colony,” the Voice of America declared.
“In many parts of the world,” the story noted, “bats rank with snakes, spiders, scorpions and other (animals) regarded as ‘creepy’ or even dangerous.” But, said reporter Greg Flakus, research shows bats are hardly dangerous and play vital roles in the ecosystem. And Austin’s bats amply prove that.
“The story of Austin's love affair with bats starts at the Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans Town Lake,” Flakus reported. “What makes this structure so special is what exists underneath and what emerges every night during the summer. This is the home of an estimated million and a half bats.”
Bat Conservation International’s Brent Lyles explained to Voice of America: “Bats are really mysterious and, in a sense, that is part of the mystique about them, I think that is part of what attracts some people to bats.”
When the bats first came (in the early 1980s), the city mostly considered the bats a threat and many Austinites demanded their eradication. But BCI, now headquartered in Austin, convinced the public and local officials that the bats were a benefit,” VOA said.
"Ten years later, the Austin American-Statesman was running headlines that said, ‘Attention bat lovers, the furry friends are back.’ Today we get 100,000 people every year watching the bats come out," Lyles said.
The bats’ evening emergences peak during the summer months and can be viewed all along the shoreline, as the bats move out in search of moths and other insects to eat. The newspaper provides a grassy viewing area near the bridge that’s a major viewing site.
Lyles noted that many local people come back again and again to enjoy the spectacle and often bring friends and relatives from out of town. BCI representatives are on hand on weekend nights to talk to people about bats, “but really it is the people of Austin that make this attraction work.”
"The kids just really love it,” one local dad told the radio network. “They say, ‘Let's go see bats!’ And it is cheap, cheap entertainment.”
Every summer night the bats eat about 15 tons of insects, including corn earworm moths that pose a threat to nearby cotton fields. Their value to agriculture, VOA said, “may be even greater than the roughly $10 million they bring to Austin every year as a tourism attraction.
And, as Lyles explained: “Attitudes are changing about bats. So many people say, ‘Oh, bats – my grandfather used to shoot them, but I know that they are good to have around.’”