Disappearing and often-dangerous water sources are putting bats and other wildlife at risk throughout America’s arid western states. But Bat Conservation International’s Water for Wildlife program is promoting “a simple solution [that] may solve this problem,” National Wildlife reports.
“A few simple strategies can keep stock tanks from becoming death traps for wildlife,” BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle told the National Wildlife Federation magazine. “Ranchers and other range managers across a vast area are helping to prevent the loss of whole populations of animals essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems.”
“The unique habits of thirsty bats” make them especially vulnerable, reporter Roger Di Silvestro wrote. Because bats drink on the wing, swooping down on livestock water tanks can prove fatal, depending on how the tanks are built.
The magazine noted that “human development has so profoundly changed western water ecology that, from the vast deserts of Arizona to the dry grasslands of Wyoming and Montana, livestock tanks are often the only reliable water sources for wildlife. For bats, they are critical.”
Citing the recent BCI publication, Water for Wildlife: A Handbook for Ranchers and Range Managers, Di Silvestro said more than 70 percent of natural water systems in the West have been degraded or lost, leaving livestock tanks as the only available source in many areas.
Tank size and location are critical for bats. BCI and its research partners found that most bat species need open water surfaces that are at least 10 feet long and no less than 2.5 feet wide, with some bats needing at least 50 feet of open water.
The problem is compounded when a tank is subdivided by braces or fencing, National Wildlife said, quoting Tuttle: “If I were the devil trying to be really mean to bats, this is how I’d do it.”
For bats and some birds that drink on the wing, tanks also need clear flyways leading to and from the water.
When bats or birds fall into tanks, they splash along the edges searching for a way out, the magazine said, and if the water level is even a few inches below the rim, they are likely to find escape impossible. The number of stock tank fatalities is unknown, but Tuttle said the loss is so high that biologists have recommended skimming stock tanks for bat skulls to determine which species occur in an area.
To reduce this threat BCI, with support from the Offield Family Foundation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Wildlife Federation, launched a program for putting appropriate escape ramps in troughs and storage tanks. National Wildlife said the ramps are quick and easy to make, as a half dozen ranchers demonstrated at a BCI workshop in Arizona by producing scores of them in a single day.
Participant Dennis Moroney, who owns a 25,000-acre ranch, cited bats’ ecological and agricultural importance in eating insect pests and pollinating plants, such as the agaves used to make tequila. After the workshop, Moroney told the magazine, he added ramps to about 40 tanks on his ranch.
The Water for Widlife handbook described in the National Wildlife article may be downloaded from BCI’s website (www.batcon.org); look under the “Conservation Programs” button. You can help support this vital program to provide safe water for bats and other wildlife by contacting email@example.com.