The importance of bats to their ecosystems is difficult to overstate. This is particularly true where bat populations number in the many millions, as with Mexican free-tailed bats in the Texas Hill Country and straw-colored fruit bat colonies in Africa.
The ecosystem services provided by these mega-populations are profound and, if lost, would have serious consequences for agriculture, forestry, and ecosystem health.
Such populations also hold significant potential for educating the public.
Bat Conservation International will identify and protect mega-populations of bats wherever they are found, including areas containing a high percentage of the total population of individual bat species (major hibernacula, roosting colonies, migratory concentrations, etc.).
Bracken Cave (United States)
BCI owns and manages the property surrounding the largest bat colony in the world, Bracken Cave, located just north of San Antonio, Texas. With between ten and twenty million bats, this colony of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), along with numerous other large colonies located in central Texas provides area farms with insect pest control services valued at close to one million dollars each year. Learn more about Bracken Cave.
Congress Avenue Bridge (United States)
Also located in the Texas Hill Country, the well-known population of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that lives seasonally under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin is currently well protected. However, this was not always the case. Soon after beginning habitation of the concrete expansion joints on the underside of the bridge in the early 1980s, it appeared the bats might be forcibly evicted.
Through no small effort, BCI’s founder, Dr. Merlin Tuttle, and others led an education and advocacy campaign that succeeded in allowing the bats to remain. Today, they are an important fixture in the city, and the tourism revenue estimated to be generated by visitors coming to watch the nightly bat emergence is in the millions of dollars annually. Learn more about the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.
Escaba Dam (Argentina)
Large populations of Mexican free-tailed bats are also known throughout Latin America.
The Escaba Dam in Argentina is thought to house South America’s largest bat population with just over 1 million individuals.
BCI and the Program for Bat Conservation in Argentina (PCMA) are partners in studying the ecosystem services of this colony and advocating for its permanent protection.
Kasanka National Park (Zambia)
The annual migration of approximately 10 million straw-colored fruit bats to the swamps and forests of Kasanka National Park in Zambia is considered one of Africa’s greatest wildlife phenomena.
Every year, the bats arrive during October and November to feed on figs and scatter their seeds, prompting reforestation and ecosystem renewal.
Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, the bats scatter to their other seasonal homes, which are thought to be largely in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Surprisingly given the size of this mega-population, we still have much to learn about its ecology and conservation needs.
There is also a great need to educate local hunters and landowners about the value of protecting the Kasanka population. For these reasons, BCI partners with the Kasanka Trust to promote educational activities for local schoolchildren and to hire forest guards. Another recent conservation initiative for the bats of Kasanka is being led and funded by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology, in which researchers have attached radio transmitters to some of the bats to track their nightly movements and discover their foraging habits.
Monfort Bat Cave (Philippines)
In Asia, BCI has been a long-term partner in protecting the Monfort Bat Cave and its 1.8 million Geoffroy’s rousette fruit bats on the island of Samal in the Philippines. Despite the fact that bats enjoy wide-ranging legal protections in the Philippines, cave roosts are frequently disturbed or even destroyed by irresponsible use by humans.
Such is the case in the region surrounding Monfort Bat Cave, such that the majority of the region’s caves are empty of bats, meanwhile, the Monfort site is literally overflowing with bats. This shows the power of protecting vital roosting habitat, and it was this promise that led BCI to partner with landowner, Norma Monfort, when she appealed for our help in 2006.
Once on the verge of being seized by the government for agricultural development, today the cave is visited by thousands of eco-tourists annually and stands as a bright beacon for the importance and potential for bat conservation throughout Asia.