Bat Volunteers Serve in Important Ways When visitors begin gathering at Bracken Cave Preserve this spring to watch millions of Mexican …
Bat Volunteers Serve in Important Ways
When visitors begin gathering at Bracken Cave Preserve this spring to watch millions of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats fly from the cave into the night sky, Edith and Don Bergquist will be right there helping people understand and marvel over the spectacular experience.
Edith and Don are dedicated volunteers for Bat Conservation International. Edith coordinates and schedules volunteers to welcome nightly visitors. Don serves as guide and presenter, impressing on visitors the vital importance of bats and pointing out that Bracken Cave Preserve visitors are witnessing the emergence of the largest, single colony of bats in the world. Both help educate visitors before they are seated on wooden benches near the mouth of the cave to observe what is often called batnado – the experience of watching bats swirl upward like a tornado, into the dark.
Both talk animatedly about the satisfaction of watching visitors’ reactions. “At Bracken Cave, it’s common to see people evolve from their fear or skepticism of bats to fascination and appreciation. We often see some people sit as far away from the cave mouth as possible and we often see those same people move closer. Bats have that effect,” says Don.
Sixteen years ago, when they retired and moved to the Texas Hill Country near Bracken Cave and its surrounding preserve, Edith and Don witnessed their first bat flights and began volunteering. At first they guided visitors to parking places. Then they began taking on more responsibilities, learning more, and becoming known in their nearby neighborhood for their knowledge of bats. A few years ago, when a freezing April rain caused thousands of migrating bats to take shelter in their neighborhood, Edith and Don reassured their neighbors the bats would leave after the storm subsided and used the opportunity to talk about bats role in sustaining healthy ecosystems.
Edith and Don are excellent ambassadors, says Fran Hutchins, director of Bracken Cave Preserve. “Bracken Cave’s success has always been dependent on dedicated volunteers,” Hutchins says. He, himself, started as a cave-exploring volunteer in 2001. “Volunteers, like Don and Edith, help provide memorable impressions of bats which, in turn, offer opportunities to talk about how vital bats are in sustaining a balance in nature.” In addition to conducting tours and talks, volunteers at Bracken Cave Preserve also maintain trails, clear brush, and assist with bird counts and wildlife surveys.
Around the United States, Bat Conservation International volunteers also conduct Bat Walks in collaboration with zoos and other institutions, plant patches of agave to assist nectar-feeding migratory bats, build and install bat boxes to provide bat-watching opportunities, and see that injured bats are reported to rescue groups.
“Bat Conservation International thrives on the support from our volunteers, members and donors,” says Hutchins. “We’re grateful to everyone who supports to our mission to save bats worldwide.”