Volume 15
Issue 1

This year, 1997, marks Bat Conservation International’s fifteenth year of conservation progress since our founding by Merlin Tuttle in 1982. On the occasion of BCI’s tenth anniversary in 1992, we reviewed our accomplishments as an organization.* For this anniversary, we will feature some of the accomplishments of our members.

Last fall we requested that you write us about the role of bat conservation in your lives. We were overwhelmed by the level of outreach efforts revealed in the stories we received. Many members have educated dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people about bats. Our 400-word limit on the stories couldn’t even begin to cover the years of work some bat fans have devoted (for that reason, we have asked several people to develop their stories for fuller articles later).

We present the letters and stories that follow with great pride in the exceptional grassroots progress of this cause. With every classroom lecture, every bat house erected, every bat T-shirt worn over the past decade and a half, the pure enthusiasm of BCI members has begun to change the tide for bats around the world.

Until 1994 I was very fearful of bats. I was so scared that when I drove into my own

driveway at night, I would cover my hair with my hands and run for the door. Then one day I decided to go to the library and find out what I could. I picked up a book about bats and found an address in the back for Bat Conservation International. I wrote for more information, and as I started to learn how beneficial and gentle bats are, I became very interested and joined BCI as a Bat House Research Associate. I was actually trying to draw bats into my yard instead of wanting them to go away and leave me alone!

As a result of wanting to face my fear, I have now been with BCI on one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. In August of 1996 I attended a BCI workshop in Pennsylvania and handled live bats. If someone had asked me just a few years ago whether I could ever touch a bat, I would have said absolutely not. The BCI workshop was very informative and well organized. I had a great adventure and also got to work with Dr. Merlin Tuttle. I hope to experience more workshops in the future.

Joyce E. Thurau

“The Bat Lady”

Pataskala, Ohio

I no longer feel a need to apologize or explain my love, appreciation, and fascination for bats. Through BCI, I have not only become a better advocate of bats, but I have been able to find camaraderie. I was delighted to learn that there are “others like me out there.”

Through BCI’s newsletters, recommended book lists, the North American Bat House Research Project, participation in a field workshop, and networking resources around the country, I have become armed with a solid knowledge base to help me dispel the bizarre, exaggerated, and ancient myths about bats that continue to circulate and saturate the public’s mind. Ironically, some media outlets seem to be most in need of bat education. I will never forget the newspaper lead about me which proclaimed “Area resident batty about flying rodents.” Not too many family members got to read that article!

BCI has helped me become the “bat lady,” as I am known to friends, co-workers, and, of course, the local media. It is a distinction I enjoy as much as the bat paraphernalia I am able to buy from BCI’s gift catalogue. My friends are always amused at my unique presents, and my bat Christmas cards have become a tradition–friends wonder how I will top the previous year’s card. (BCI has not let me down.) And, my bat T-shirts turn heads in the stores and streets, but no longer raise eyebrows among friends.

Co-workers don’t even look at me strangely anymore when I tell them that my vacation will be spent getting up early each morning to climb into mines and church attics or set mist nets at night in search of bats. I participated in BCI’s Pennsylvania field workshop, and the experience is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable of any trip to any part of the world (and, yes I have traveled to many different countries, but no vacation can beat a BCI workshop)!

My family and friends have grown accustomed to my arriving with injured or orphaned bats under my care and even my mother, who shrieked at the first live bat I brought into her home, offered to assist me in feeding the orphaned pups I raised this past summer. I’ve even made such progress with my mother that I am no longer banished to the basement to sleep with my bats. They are welcome to sleep upstairs with me (in cages, of course).

BCI has helped to make a difference not only in my life, but for the folks around me as well. BCI has been a good resource, a good friend, and a good mentor. I am grateful for all it means to me, to bats, and to the world. BCI has made my life fuller, along with my bats.

Brenda Malinics

Development director and volunteer wildlife rehabilitator

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

BCI has always provided me with the positive side of bat conservation and news that I use on a regular basis. I am a Special Agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and a “club pro” on the illegal take of, and commerce in, bats. Where my colleagues and I enforce laws and apprehend violators, we are generally exposed to bats only after they’re dead, caged, or smuggled.

It’s rather depressing work, but BCI lets me know that there are those who appreciate bats and their place on earth, and that makes my job a little easier. Through their publications, BCI puts me in touch with the wonders of learning and working with bats and with those lucky enough to experience these activities firsthand in a more positive setting. BCI also provides a forum for the educational, scientific, and management aspects of bat conservation, particularly partnerships between all concerned parties. This is crucial to the long-run conservation of these animals, and in the short-run, provides me with data, news, and references needed in my work. Thanks!

George Phocas

Conservation officer

Torrance, California

There’s the bat lady!” “Are you really the bat lady?” These statements would often cause me to cringe, especially when yelled out in unlikely places like the supermarket or church. Needless to say, this title usually needs explaining to unknowing onlookers.

Two years ago I saw a desperate need to answer sincere concerns about bats. I felt quite inadequate in this field even though I have a background in zoology and biology. I began to arm myself with BCI catalogues. I ordered posters, a bat detector, and anatomy displays, and I made a homemade bat cape. With Merlin Tuttle’s America’s Neighborhood Bats tucked under my arm (or maybe wing), I went forth to advertise my availability on the subject of bats. Many lectures and close to 1,000 program participants later, I look back at all of my successes and some of my failures.

I may not have converted everyone to be instant bat lovers, but at least they did listen. They looked, perhaps for the first time, at the eyes, ears, and wings of these wonderful creatures. They laughed at my humorous side, and they sobered when I told of the senseless killings of thousands of bats in one ignorant act. Some did go home to build bat boxes, and others started to watch the evening skies, perhaps with more intrepidness. Others understood who the strange visitors were in the attic; now they had options in dealing with their house guests.

The true test of my endeavors is the acceptance of the children who have an inherent understanding of the importance of my mission. I now receive fan mail about success stories from other chiroptera admirers; I receive cartoons and plenty of “batty stuff” for Halloween. I no longer cringe at my new name–I perk up my ears and echolocate!

Stella A. Kavalkovich

Environmental educator

Media, Pennsylvania

For the last ten years, a major part of my job at Devil’s Den State Park has been presenting bat programs at the park and at area schools. It all began when I ordered Bat Conservation International’s slide program, “Bats: Myth and Reality.”

From that point on I was hooked. I joined BCI in 1987, and since then, have had many contacts with this fine organization, including participation in one of the bat conservation workshops in Arizona.

In 1991 my bat programs really took off when I was able to obtain a non-releasable big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). I called the pup “Brownie.” In the next two years, Brownie appeared before nearly 3,000 people at over 100 bat programs with me. We’ve had many adventures, including the time she got a glueboard mousetrap stuck to her head and I had to give her a punk-rock-style haircut to free her from it!

Congratulations to Bat Conservation International on an incredible fifteen years of service to bats worldwide. Keep up the good work!

Harry Harnish

Park interpreter

West Fork, Arkansas

I was never squeamish, and always fascinated by the plight of the underdog, so when a student came up to me with a BCI catalogue, I plunged in.

That was September 1995, when I was substitute teaching seventh grade science at Windham Middle School. One of my two-week units was the “batnet,” a research unit done simultaneously with schools throughout southern New Hampshire, studying and trading information over the Internet. I had considered myself a well-educated person, but I began to realize that my ignorance was overwhelming when it came to bats. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn, and once I realized how crucial bats were to ecology, and saw what “progress” around town was doing to their habitats, I turned active.

The first step was to join BCI. The second was to try to educate the public. Our library is an old stone building that has housed a colony of little brown bats for almost 100 years. When the board of trustees decided to rid the building of bats, I had a letter published in the paper and set up a vertical file in the library on bats. The letter elicited many interesting phone calls, most notably from Susan Macomber Murch, whose father had years ago built a “Missouri-style” bat house after much correspondence with Merlin Tuttle about its design. It had been blown down in a hurricane a few years back, and she asked if I’d be interested in refurbishing it and getting it erected on public land in town.

For the past few months, I have gone to meetings of various boards and committees around town, and have accomplished–with the help of two teachers, Mrs. Irene Blenis and Mrs. Nancy Fahey; a crew of students and parent volunteers; and my patient carpenter, David Mann–two major pro-bat events: the library now has a large bat condo with 12 compartments on it, and the Missouri bat house is fixed up and ready to be erected before spring migration. We hope these structures will house bats ousted from the library attic and from two large barns torn down in the last six months. I also erected a condo on my own house.

Belonging to BCI has made me many interesting acquaintances, and we will continue our goal of erecting more bat houses on south-facing public buildings and poles to help BeAuTify Windham.

Carol A. Desilets


Windham, New Hampshire

BCI has accomplished many great things in the fields of protecting bats and educating people about them, but there’s another big story here in my opinion. Too often, in the dozen years or so that I’ve been involved in environmental issues, I run across friends, relatives, or co-workers who say “oh, one person can’t make a difference” when any “big issue” comes up. Yet to me, Merlin Tuttle is an outstanding example of just how one person can–and does–make a difference. If you even skim BCI’s quarterly magazine, it’s easy to see that his efforts are multiplied many times over by staff, members, volunteers, teachers, students, sympathetic people in the field, and so on. I wish I could explain all of this to these doubters, but people must be willing to listen.

As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I’d like to add my own take on the subject: environmental (or social) battles are won or lost one person at a time. Let’s keep working on people, one at a time.

DeWitt Henderson


Los Alamos, New Mexico

The tiny black bat landed on the porch screen at 10:30 in the morning on a sweltering northeast Texas August day. At 10 years old, I thought the outstretched black wings, which shrieked BAT, were the most magical things I had ever seen. In spite of my frantic dash toward the bat, he flew away before I could reach him. Since that time, while surrounded by friends and family who felt that bats ranked right down there with houseflies and roaches, I have been fascinated with bats.

I felt as if I had been given one of the world’s greatest gifts when I read a newspaper article about BCI and Dr. Merlin Tuttle. He had a Ph.D., and he said bats were wonderful, valuable animals! Although I am a confirmed procrastinator, I requested BCI membership information that week. As soon as it arrived, I joined!

Membership in BCI has provided me with the most valuable commodity in the world–knowledge. I was able to share that knowledge for many years in my work as a school librarian for a small parochial elementary school.

My students’ enthusiasm for bats and bat information amazed me. October was the ideal month to concentrate on bats, so we shared pictures of bats, looked up bat information in reference materials, and read stories about bats. Stellaluna and Rufus were real favorites. Throughout the year, bats figured in my library program through my mascot, a stylized bat called “Banzai Bat.” Banzai flew through the library carrying notes and signs and even held book covers on the bulletin board. The “Banzai Bat Book Award” was issued to classes which achieved meritorious library use. The students were really excited about all the different bats in the world and, based on comments from some parents, rushed home to share their new knowledge with anyone who would listen.

This year Banzai and I have had to retire because of illness. As an old teacher, I may have lost my class, but I still have my membership in BCI and an undying love for fascinating, furry flying mammals.

Vicki W. Perry

Librarian, retired

Biloxi, Mississippi


Please be aware that we welcome all BCI members to write about your own bat conservation work for BATS magazine. You can also suggest that one of our staff write an article or a “members-in-action” profile about you or another member. We do have very specific guidelines for articles, but we don’t want anyone to be too intimidated or too modest to propose a story or to peruse our guidelines to see if you could write one yourself.

* Copies of the tenth anniversary issue are available for a small donation by calling Angela England at the BCI office (512) 327-9721, ext. 35, or by sending e-mail to aengland@batcon.org

Editor’s note: Some letters have been cut or edited slightly for length, but we have made every attempt to preserve members’ original words and sentiments.

Please write the editor anytime with your suggestions or with a request for article guidelines. Write to Sara McCabe at BCI, P.O.

Box 162603, Austin, Texas, 78716, or via e-mail at


Joyce Thurau proudly holds a bat (something she thought she could never do) at one of BCI’s Pennsylvania workshops.

Stella Kavalkovich, an environmental educator at Tyler Arboretum in Media, Pennsylvania, shows off a bat cape she made for giving bat presentations. Kavalkovich estimates that roughly 1,000 people have attended her presentations.

Ann Smith of Somerset Hills, New Jersey, wrote us about the bike ride she organized. While benefitting the local YMCA, the ride also helped promote awareness of bats. Using the acronym, BATS, for “Biking Around The Somerset hills,” the event featured bat route markers on the roads (above) and other batty bits of information. Smith got the local paper to write up the story. She plans to make the BATS ride an annual event.

Heather Crebase, Laura Tuttle, and Sean and Moe Blankenship help refurbish a Missouri-style bat house in New Hampshire. Member Carol Desilets worked hard with this crew to get the house ready in time for spring.