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Santiago Gamboa Alurralde is the first-ever recipient of the Verne and Marion Read Bat Conservation Award. Verne and Marion Read were key players in BCIs founding, and offered unwavering support, commitment and dedication to the cause.
We asked how he hopes to continue their legacy with his new research.
Bats: What inspired you to work with bats?
Alurralde: I started to work with bats through an internship. From the first moment, I fell in love with these extraordinary animals. Being the only truly flying mammals, they have unique characteristics that make them fascinating to study.
Bats: What will your research focus on?
Alurralde: The aim of the project is to contribute to the conservation of a large colony of the free-tailed bat, Tadarida brasiliensis, hosted in the Escaba Dam, Tucuman Province, Argentina. Despite a provincial legislation made in 2000 that protects the colony, the population of T. brasiliensis suffered a great reduction in 2003 due to modifications in its shelter, and over the years, it has never been able to fully recover. This colony is extremely important, taking into account that T. brasiliensis is a migratory species of bat protected by local and international laws, and as insectivorous bats, this species provides essential ecological services.
Bats: What do you hope to achieve with this research?
Alurralde: Although T. brasiliensis is a broadly studied species, knowledge about its reproductive and breeding roosts in South America is scarce. We do not know if the colony is really recovering and what impact it has on the environment. With an intensive monitoring of the population and a systematic study of its diet, I am aiming to answer these questions. The information that could be gathered with this research, about the seasonal variation of the colony, its diet and reproduction, is very important for their conservation. Moreover, the Escaba area is a tourist site and receives many visitors each year. Through educational activities and printed material, I hope to increase the appreciation of T. brasiliensis.
Bats: How does the public in Argentina view bats?
Alurralde: In my country, as well in all countries, there are so many myths around bats. People believe that bats are blind and grim animals, vampires infected by the rabies virus. Because of that, the public is aware of bats, but in the wrong way. They do not really know the importance of these wonderful animals and the key role that they play in the environment.
Bats: How will the Verne and Marion Read Scholarship help you?
Alurralde: This scholarship not only helps me but encourages me to continue working for the conservation of bats. I think that is very important, to focus the studies both on site-specific conservation and on the critical need to educate people about the myriad benefits of bats. Scholarships in conservation are very helpful for developing these type of studies.