Volume 35, Issue 1, 2016

For the Love of Bats

BCI supporters go the distance, impart wisdom, strut their stuff and get crafty to promote bat conservation

By Leila Nasser


Mexican free-tailed bats
Mexican free-tailed bats in Bracken Cave. Credit: Jonathan Alonzo.

When it comes to giving back, BCI supporters aren’t afraid of running the extra mile. Literally.

Niki Lake of Seabrook, Texas, is an avid marathon runner with an inborn passion for bat conservation. Whenever she hits the ground running, Lake loves to raise money for BCI. 

“I like to find ways to bring all my interests together,” she says. “So I decided to raise money and run.”

Lake’s fervor for bats can be traced back to her childhood. As the kid of a Houston Zoo volunteer, Lake has always been around animals. As a student at Texas State University, she pursued her interest in wildlife biology and became a park ranger soon after.

Since 2012, Lake has run 93 miles under the hot Texas sun, and has raised more than $2,700 for BCI. Though logging that many miles might sound tortuous to some, Lake says she was “smiling the whole time.” “It was so cool,” she says. “Along the way I would stop and meet up with people and talk to them about bats and give them little bat facts and stuff.”

Kids especially take notice of Lake when she trudges through the dry Texas terrain—in part because when it comes to raising money for bats, Lake likes to make quite the fashion statement.

“I kind of started doing this batty-clown thing,” Lake says with a laugh. “I used to be a clown a long time ago, so I was like, ‘Oh, I can bring bats, running and clowning together!’” The end result is a bat-friendly take on marathon running essentials: lavish wings, a batty backpack that also holds water and a would-be wig that kind of looks like bat ears.

Niki Lake raises money for BCI by running marathons.
Niki Lake raises money for BCI by running marathons in batty
costumes. Credit: Niki Lake.

To the average runner (and reader), Lake’s devotion to bat conservation and education seems out of the ordinary, over-the-top and completely outrageous—but there’s a good reason behind it. “Bats make up a quarter of the world’s mammals,” Lake stresses. “So they’re pretty important. And they’re facing one of the worst wildlife diseases of all time, White-nose Syndrome. That was the real stimulus for me. White-nose, to me, is petrifying.”Through quality education and funded research, Lake says that bat populations can be saved from White-nose Syndrome. So she’s just trying to contribute to that effort in her own unique way. “BCI is a phenomenal organization that’s really the forerunner of bat conservation. And bats are a pretty easy sell if you can get people to sit down and listen,” she adds.

Making Change

Getting people to sit down and listen—now that’s the hard part. But according to BCI supporter and special needs teacher Raquel Hickey, bat conservation and education are born in the classroom. “I have been a teacher now for 14 years, and I’ve been teaching about bats for at least the last 10,” Hickey says. “If I could work with bats every day for the rest of my life, I would do it. It’s a very passionate thing for me.” Hickey’s love for bats started in college when she took a course in conservation. Ever since then, Hickey has been inspired to teach children about the importance of bat conservation. When deciduous trees start shedding their leaves in the fall, Hickey likes to teach her little 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds about bats, instead of Halloween. The classroom walls become their caverns, with hand-drawn bats beautifying the monotonous drywall. “It’s their favorite unit,” Hickey says. 

To help raise money during October’s Bat Week, Hickey decided to start a penny drive. Although they didn’t make much money, the underlying message was well received. “We didn’t raise a lot of money, but the reason I teach it is because kids are always scared of what they see on TV and I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to know that bats are important to us,” Hickey says. “Without bats, our world wouldn’t exist.”

Performance Art

Drag Show
Alexis Hex and friends put on a bat-themed drag show fundraiser.
Credit: Alexis Hex.

Alongside marathons and penny drives, donors have found other creative ways to give back. In Chicago, Alexis Hex organized the Call Bar’s first ever “Angels of the Night” drag show—a two-hour performance dedicated to bat species around the world.

“The bar that I perform at is known for some of their main shows, and they usually raise a lot of money for charity,” Hex says. “I was always saying we should do something for BCI. So when they had an opening on a Saturday in October I was like, ‘Yes, totally!’”

Hex has been a bat fanatic since her freshman year of high school when one of her teachers asked the class to create a magazine. Hex decided hers would feature bats. “I fell in love reading up on bats; it was wonderful,” she recalls. Naturally, Hex received an A on that report. And, despite having big shoes to fill—high-heeled shoes, that is—she did just as well hosting her event. Her act raised money and awareness.

Plush toys
Leana Alburquerque makes and sells batplush toys for BCI. Credit:
Leana Alburquerque.

 

“During my commentary, I was trying to bring up little bat facts, like, ‘If you’re drinking some tequila, you better think of bats!”. Fort Lauderdale’s Leana Albuquerque is another great example of what a little imagination and creativity can do. With the help of her mom and fiancé, Albuquerque was able to donate $250 by selling adorable plush toy bats.

“This project was a lot of fun,” Albuquerque says. “I wish I could win the lotto or something because we would be able to give so much more. But right now this is a way that we can help these precious animals.” From 60-mile runs to money drives, from drag shows to plush sales, BCI donors will do just about anything to make a difference. Indeed, they already have.

Spread Your Wings

Thinking of a creative fundraising idea of your own? We’d love to hear about it and help provide support. To get started, contact Micaela Jemison at mjemison@batcon.org.

 

 

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