It’s spring, and over the last eight weeks, 10 million-plus female Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) have come back to Bracken Cave in the Texas Hill Country. Most are pregnant and will give birth soon, swelling Bracken’s population to well over 15 million by mid-summer. Free-tails also have returned to a dozen other caves in the Hill Country; to Austin’s fabled Congress Avenue Bridge; and to bridges in Houston, Tucson and many other cities.
Though the Bracken bats don’t know it, while they were in Mexico, their domain tripled in size, thanks to a $20 million, 1,521-acre addition to Bracken Cave Preserve. Bracken now connects to other conservation lands—comprising 3,500 contiguous acres of cedar-oak grasslands, bluebonnets, buntings and bats, an area and ecosystem that’s also critical to the Edwards Aquifer from which Austin, San Antonio and surrounding communities draw their water.
The recent land purchase involved eight agencies and organizations and is BCI’s largest project to date. But it’s not the only one. Our conservation staff has been working the past few months in Ecuador, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, assisting partners there and in a number of other countries. Here in the United States, we’ve joined a small group of dedicated biologists working to save the endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus) (see pages 6 and 15). Until a small colony was recently found in a pine tree, this little-understood bat was known only from a handful of bat houses and an empty mansion in Miami.
Free-tails and bonneted bats occupy the two ends of the bat spectrum, from a population of 100 million-plus bats in the former’s case, to fewer than 1,000 in the latter’s. Both are among 35 species that BCI has prioritized for immediate conservation. Most are highly endangered like the bonneted bat, but some are species with mega-populations like the free-tails, which provide nearly incalculable ecosystem services. All are highly beneficial to their environments and cannot survive unless their habitats are adequately protected.
BCI will focus increasingly on those habitats. On Taveuni Island in Fiji, we must help farmers retain the productivity of their fields to reduce the need to cut deeper into the upland forest where the Mirimiri fruit bat (Mirimiri acrodonta) makes its last refuge. In Ecuador, it will mean helping the government develop and implement a national bat conservation plan. To safeguard multiple species against the threats posed by white-nose syndrome and collisions with wind-energy turbines, we must transform our decade of research on both issues into the first practical means of reducing both threats. And we believe we’re almost there.
Good news in conservation seems rare these days, but as with bats, it’s still quietly out there.
BCI Executive Director