Merlin’s career in international bat conservation began at Khao Chong Pran Cave in 1982. During a trip funded by Verne Read, Buddhist monks at the Wat Khao Chong Pran asked Merlin for help in discovering why the cave’s bats, whose guano they sold as fertilizer, were in severe decline.
Aided by Thai assistant, Surapon Duangkhae–who latter became one of Thailand’s leading conservationists–Merlin discovered and documented that commercial bat hunters were catching many thousands of bats for sale to restaurants. His advice to the monks: hire a guard to protect the bats from further exploitation. As a result, the colony recovered. The monks’ guano sales jumped from$12,000 USD in 1981 to $89,000USD in 1989, and $135,000 USD by 2002. Today there are three guards protecting the cave, and we were delighted to meet them. See Tuttle, Merlin D. (Fall 1990) Return to Thailand, Bats Magazine, volume 8, No. 3.
We also met with the head monk who remembered Merlin and his work at the cave. He showed us the handwritten ledger of guano sales for the past two years, which will prove invaluable in evaluating the bats’ current status. The monks don’t mine the guano themselves, they pay local villagers to do it.
The bats now additionally benefit the monastery by attracting thousands of bat watching tourists.