Media & Education
BATS Magazine

Volume 20, Issue 2, Summer 2002

The Challenges Ahead

By Merlin D. Tuttle

We have come such a long way in 20 years that it is easy to forget how far we have yet to go.

When BCI began, few people knew much of anything about bats and most of what they believed was wrong. Bats were feared, despised, and killed as casually as rattlesnakes or roaches. But education worked, as did our focus on converting potential enemies into allies through cooperative approaches. Now most educated people realize that bats contribute to their well being and, as a result, countless millions of bats have been saved worldwide.

Yet ignorance remains a major threat to bats -- and to the ecosystems and economies that depend on them. Myths and misunderstandings persist in many places. Even in the United States, as recently as summer 2002, a national newsmagazine included bats in a list of hazardous wildlife. We must remain vigilant.

Equally important, key knowledge of bats' importance and needs is often nonexistent. Most of the world's bats are largely unstudied and so little understood that some species have disappeared before anyone realized they were endangered.

We must learn much more about bats, and we must share what we learn. That is a driving force behind the most ambitious project in BCI history. We have already acquired Bracken Cave, home of the world's largest bat colony. But we must do much more. We must study and address these wide-ranging bats' needs and educate the public to help protect them. We are planning an unprecedented education and research center to share this natural wonder and carry BCI's message into future generations. The challenges of acquiring the additional land that's needed to protect this amazing resource, of researching the colony's needs, and of building a cutting-edge facility in the Central Texas Hill Country are immense. So are the rewards.

The gray bat, one of America's most endangered species 20 years ago, is beginning to prosper, and our latest research discoveries may hold the key to rescuing the critically endangered Indiana bat. Crucial populations of the endangered Virginia big-eared bat are now protected and stable, while newly protected populations of threatened western big-eared bats are growing. But other species still require innovative action. America's Rafinesque's big-eared bats, for example, traditionally roosted in extra large tree hollows that are now rare. Developing the kinds of alternative roosts that we are now testing is essential if surviving colonies are to be saved.

We have worked internationally from our very beginnings, and we remain committed to helping bats worldwide. Taking effective bat conservation onto a global stage, however, is a staggering task. Our international targets are carefully chosen as they become economically, logistically, and politically feasible. BCI's Student Scholarship Program is critical to conservation on an international scale and has seeded many countries with biologists who are, or will become, the vanguard of bat conservation. International efforts are further enhanced through our Global Grassroots Conservation Fund, which supports dynamic community and volunteer initiatives worldwide; these rather small grants promise incredible payoffs in years to come, though the needs far surpass BCI's current resources.

Together, we have made unprecedented progress despite seemingly impossible odds. With so many people finally beginning to understand bats, with sound research contributing new knowledge, and with the impact of a world center for bat education at Bracken Cave, our accomplishments in the decade ahead may again surpass our dreams. With such a remarkable beginning, we have every reason for optimism -- not just for bats, but for future generations of humans, as well.

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