Thousands of people braved triple-digit temperatures to celebrate the first annual International Bat Night Saturday (August 27) in Austin, Texas, hometown of Bat Conservation International. More than a dozen similar events were held around the United States as BCI helped organize and promote simultaneous festivals, lectures and bat-watching forays as part of the International Year of the Bat.
The United Nations declared 2011-2012 as Year of the Bat. BCI is among Founding Partners for the Year, with a key role in encouraging bat-awareness celebrations around the world, from Philadelphia to the Philippines, and Portland to Peru. These expanding festivities offer an unprecedented opportunity to educate millions of people about the benefits of bats and the threats they face.
Bat Night, on the last weekend in August, began in Europe 15 years ago, under the auspices of EUROBATS (the Agreement on the Conservation of European Bats). Increasingly popular across the continent, it is now celebrated in about 30 countries – as it was on Saturday. Now Bat Night has gone intercontinental as a result of BCI's efforts for International Year of the Bat.
In Austin, Bat Night was combined with the seventh annual Batfest at the downtown Congress Avenue Bridge, summer home to about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. The bridge bats are revered in Austin and draw tens of thousands of bat-watchers each summer.
Bat Night visitors learned about bats from BCI staff and volunteers at the bridge. They also gathered at a nearby Hyatt Regency hotel to see a live fruit bat during a presentation by BCI Outreach Associate Dianne Odegard. The free, city-sponsored celebration also featured live music and variety of arts, crafts and food vendors. And if that wasn't enough, the bridge bats staged an especially dramatic emergence as the sun was setting.
International Bat Night was also celebrated at BCI's Bracken Bat Cave near San Antonio. Other events were held in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and elsewhere.
Activities really began about two weeks earlier, when BCI and Lake Superior Zoo presented Bat Week. Events included a daily "Bat Breakfast" with children's activities, a bat-house workshop and several speakers who discussed bat myths, benefits and research.
BCI is also organizing an important bat symposium, hosted by The Field Museum of Chicago on October 15. The keynote speaker will be BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle, with presentations by BCI Executive Director Nina Fascione, BCI Director of Education James Eggers, as well as Endangered Species Manager Joe Kath of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Director Cory Holliday of The Nature Conservancy's Tennessee Cave & Karst Program, educator Scott Heinrichs and representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service White-nose Syndrome team and the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center.
Among Year of the Bat events next year, BCI is organizing the first U.S. Bat Appreciation Week beginning April 9, 2012. BCI and the Houston Zoo are planning a bat symposium on April 14, and local conservation groups are planning a wide range events, from bat-related crafts and games to bat walks, talks and viewings as part of the weeklong celebration.
The number of International Year of the Bat festivities is growing constantly throughout the United States and the world. Visit BCI's Year of the Bat webpage (www.batcon.org/yotb) to keep track of upcoming events, free downloadable resources and to learn how you can sponsor, organize or partner with BCI on your own celebration. The YOTB webpage is also where you can make reservations for the Field Museum symposium.