Slaughtering bats has never involved much risk for the perpetrators: even the most brutal vandals are rarely identified and serious punishment is almost unheard of. But now a federal judge has raised the stakes.
A Kentucky man is going to jail for eight months and another faces three years of probation after pleading guilty to beating to death 105 endangered Indiana myotis with flashlights, rocks and their feet in 2007. Such incidents have, thankfully, declined over the years as education efforts by Bat Conservation International and others have dispelled myths about bats and built an appreciation for their value. Yet, as proven in Kentucky’s Laurel Cave, senseless bat massacres have hardly disappeared.
And this came after Indiana myotis already were being battered by White-nose Syndrome.
A big difference this time, compared with similar incidents in the past, is that the Laurel Canyon slaughter generated a surprising amount of media attention, both locally and around the country. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) immediately raised a loud alarm. A consistent sense of outrage was expressed to reporters by many conservationists, prominently including BCI Cave Resources Coordinator Jim Kennedy.
BCI worked with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to establish a reward fund and provided the initial contribution. The reward quickly grew to $5,000 with support from the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network and Defenders of Wildlife and was widely reported.
BCI has been working at Kentucky’s Carter Caves State Resort Park, where Laurel Cave is located, since 1998 to protect and improve conditions in a number of important Indiana myotis hibernacula (see BATS, Winter 2005). The park’s Saltpetre Cave was discovered to be a mostly abandoned but once major hibernation site. Closing the cave to winter tours and restoring historic airflow conditions led thousands of these endangered bats to once again begin hibernating in the cave.
Prominent signs warning the public to keep out of the state park’s key caves during the winter hibernation season proved ineffective at Laurel Cave. So Kennedy and BCI Indiana myotis Coordinator Michael Baker joined with the American Cave Conservation Association, FWS and KDFWR and the Kentucky State Parks Department to install bat-friendly gates at Laurel Cave to protect this important site by keeping people out while bats are hibernating.
FWS said its agents, acting on an anonymous tip, arrested Kentuckians Lonnie W. Skaggs and Kaleb D. Carpenter. Both men admitted entering the cave Oct. 26, 2007, and killing 23 of the hibernating bats, the FWS reports, while Skaggs returned several nights later and killed another 82 Indiana myotis.
They pleaded guilty to violating the federal Endangered Species Act. U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Atkins sentenced Skaggs to two eight-month sentences to run concurrently, and placed Carpenter on three years’ probation.