Iroro is a phD student interested in the ecology and species distribution of bats in her homeland of Nigeria. She is also a strong advocate for environmental education
Name: Iroro Tanshi
Title: Bat Ecologist & Educator (phD student)
Organization: Texas Tech University, USA
How did you become interested in bats?
I always had an interest in nature but I wasn’t focused on bats until I attended a conference in Uganda in 2010. There I learnt about bat pollination systems found in West Africa. It was fascinating to me that scientists would climb high up in the canopy at night to collect nectar and flower scents in an attempt determine what the bats were feeding on. That was exciting for me – I thought if an interest in bats could lead you to explore all sorts of environments and habitats then that is what I want to do.
Another key reason I started to research bats was BCI’s support. After I returned home from the conference I learnt that bat research in Nigeria was limited. A colleague however mentioned the student grants offered by BCI and their interest in supporting research in Africa. Suddenly my decision to study bats became easy. BCI supported my master’s research, which was my first bat project, on the species richness of bats between different forest and savanna habitat types in Nigeria.
What is the most amazing thing you have learnt about bats?
My favorite bat species is the yellow-winged bat, Lavia frons. It is the prettiest bat I have ever seen. The first time I came across this bat was in 2011 during my Masters research, where I was surveying in Okomu National Park in Nigeria. On the last day of a two-week field visit, just before dawn, my team and I were exhausted from trapping bats all night. All we wanted to do was to close the nets and go to bed. But all that changed when this grey-furred bat with pretty yellow wings showed up in our net. Suddenly the tiredness turned to excitement and curiosity, our sleepy eyes were overcome by an uncontrollable need to stare at this stunning creature. Even my “unbelieving” field assistants accepted then that bats are beautiful. I hadn’t seen colored pictures of bats at the time, so I had no idea bats could be that beautiful. I was thrilled about the catch to say the least – I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.
What is your current focus in bat research?
My interests cut across broad aspects of bat ecology. I am particularly interested in landscape ecology, roosting ecology and species distribution. I would like to advance understanding on how roosting ecology of bat species interacts with the surrounding landscape to influence species distribution and occurrence. I am also interested in applying the result of my research in bat conservation. Currently, my conservation interests include environmental education about bats and outreach to local government agencies and NGO’s in Nigeria.
What is the most satisfying part of your involvement with bat conservation?
The most satisfying part of my involvement with bat research and conservation is the amazing diversity of people I get to engage with. From local people at my field sites to the broader community of bat researchers and conservationists, I enjoy sharing and learn from the people I work with. Faculty members and students to professionals and local people currently require environmental education in Nigeria. I delight in seeing people’s faces light up when I describe the unique roosting and feeding adaptations of bats.
In addition, I have had the privilege of working with the amazing people at BCI during and after the workshop they organized that led to the launching of Bat Conservation Africa (BCA). The opportunity to raise capacity in bat research and conservation in Nigeria as well as engage with colleagues in Bat Conservation Africa (BCA) has been immensely rewarding. Similarly, I’ve had the opportunity of working with many wonderful people in bat research and conservation. I have also been mentored by some of the best bat biologists John Altringham, Jakob Fahr and Tigga Kingston while a longer list of professionals have supported me in many ways.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in bat conservation?
Bat conservation is an exciting field and, now more than ever, is essential for the protection of the animals we love and their unique ecosystem functions and services. My advice for new entrants is to develop your interest by seeking out opportunities for involvement. Visit the websites of the leading bat conservation groups and take your interest to another level by identifying relevant support – as they say; stand on the shoulder of giants. From my experience, the community of bat research and conservation professionals is closely knit and very supportive of budding scientists – make good use of your contacts. Be dynamic and prepare to take on new roles as you go along. Getting into a new field is exciting but can also be challenging especially for young scientists in developing countries where access to mentorship is limited – only a certain degree of stick-to-itiveness is required to get through.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I earned my Bachelors in Environmental Science at the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria where I also earned a Masters in Environmental Quality Management (Biodiversity and Conservation) in addition to earning a Masters in Biodiversity Conservation from University of Leeds. My undergraduate studies exposed me to a broad range of environmental problems including conservation and restoration. I conducted field surveys on bats for my Masters degrees. In Nigeria, I surveyed and compared bat assemblages between forest and savanna habitats including Okomu National Park – supervised by Dr Jakob Fahr and Dr. Anthony Ogbeibu. For the Masters in Leeds I surveyed bats in an agricultural landscape to understand how bats use landscape features like headgerows in southwest England – supervised by Dr. John Altringham. I am currently a Phd student in Dr Tigga Kingston’s lab at Texas Tech University and I plan to study forest bats in Nigeria.