International conference unites scientists with conservation mission


Africa is home to more than 320 species of bats, and the continent set the perfect scene for the 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology, which was held in July.  More than 1,200 delegates from 91 countries gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, to collaborate on the theme of sustaining biodiversity. BCI was well-represented with members of the Science and Conservation teams in attendance to share progress on BCI’s conservation efforts. We sponsored six current and former BCI Student Scholars to attend the conference, with BCI hosting a symposium on Advancing Bat Conservation and Research in Africa. 

From L-R: Gamba-Rios, Webala, Frick, Bakwo, Adams, Tanshi, Bunsy, Atagana, de Wit, Kibiwot, Flanders, O’Mara. Photo by Melqui Gamba.

During the conference, BCI scientists presented on a variety of research areas with numerous collaborators on each project. Peace Iribagiza from the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association presented research on the Critically Endangered Hill’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hilli), along with key collaborators including Nyungwe park rangers Jean Pierre Ntihemuka and Philbert Ndahayo. Endangered Species Interventions Director Dr. Jon Flanders worked with the team on this project. 

“A call to action to resolve barriers to improve monitoring and enable bat conservation globally”

Dr. Amanda Adams

Director of Research Coordination Dr. Amanda Adams’ presentation focused on the need for a coordinated global strategy—much like the North American Bat Monitoring program (NABat)—to monitor bat populations to inform bat conservation. She discussed how open-source hardware and data science infrastructures can help overcome some barriers involved, as well as the rapid progress in terms of acoustic detector technology. However, she also discussed the challenges, including processing the volume of data collected, bandwidth to share the data, as well as processing and analysis, and how researchers can work to overcome these barriers to help support bat conservation.

Photo by Melqui Gamba

“Aligning conservation and public health goals to tackle unsustainable trade of mammals”

Dr. Luz de Wit 

Research Scientist Dr. Luz de Wit focused on the wildlife trade, with her presentation discussing the “conservation and health trade risk” index, which is a tool that can be used to prioritize monitoring and regulation of the wildlife trade for species with a high risk of extinction as well as zoonotic potential. She used this tool to identify 284 high-priority species to focus trade monitoring and regulation on. The high-priority species include a number of bats, as well as  other mammals, like primates, rodents, and carnivores.

“Bridging the Evidence Gap to Improve Global Bat Conservation”

Dr. Teague O’Mara

In his presentation, Director of Conservation Evidence Dr. Teague O’Mara focused on the evidence crisis in conservation. He explained how the lack of evidence to support decision making is especially challenging in bat conservation because 60% of potential actions to help bat populations lack evidence (compared to birds, which only 23% of suggested actions lack evidence). He pointed out that the evidence we do have is biased towards the Global North, while greater bat diversity occurs in the Global South, highlighting the need to bridge the evidence gap and build capacity to improve bat conservation around the globe.

Photo by Melqui Gamba

“A Global Strategy for Bat Conservation”

Dr. Winifred Frick

The need for evidence-based and scalable strategies for effective conservation was the heart of Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick’s presentation. She discussed BCI’s prioritization rubric to help with strategic planning efforts, incorporating elements like species vulnerability, conservation impact, and the feasibility of a potential project. She used BCI’s conservation efforts to protect Stony Hill Cave in Jamaica as a case-study for effective conservation action, and how identifying priority caves is a crucial step to help prevent bat extinctions, since protecting caves roosts provides a high return on investment for biodiversity conservation.

Advancing Bat Conservation and Research in Africa Symposium

The symposium focusing on Advancing Bat Conservation and Research in Africa included speakers and a roundtable discussion moderated by Chief Scientist Dr. Winifred Frick and Research Scientist Dr. Luz de Wit. Dr. Paul Webala from Maasai Mara University, who is a BCI Science Advisory Committee member as well as co-chair and co-founder of Bat Conservation Africa and Global South Bats, opened the session with a keynote perspective on the urgent need to conserve Africa’s rich bat biodiversity and support a new generation of scientists. The symposium included talks from Dr. Iroro Tanshi, Yogishah Bunsy, Sospeter Kibiwot, Dr. Patrick Atagana, and Dr. Eric Bakwo who discussed current advances, challenges and needs in bat conservation and research in Africa. 

Photo by Melqui Gamba