Members Making a Difference Worldwide

By Merlin Tuttle

3/17/2022

By illustrating scientific discoveries with spectacular photography, we equip others worldwide to overcome fear and inspire appreciation of the key ecosystem roles of bats. Our members have opportunities to contribute, both financially and personally, in making a measurable difference.

Recently, Partner Members Mindy Vescovo and Kathy Estes, funded and assisted me, our Workshop Advisory Trustee Daniel Hargreaves, our Program Coordinator Danielle Cordani, and Videographer Joey Chapman, in field photography and education in Costa Rica. We visited multiple locations including Fiona Reid’s Sylvan Falls and Harmony Hotel.

Videographer Joey Chapman, filming MTBC Program Coordinator Danielle Cordani spreading a 42-ft net across a Costa Rican River while Partner Member Mindy Vescovo holds a 30-ft pole ready for net attachment.

The major decline of traditionally abundant species, in Costa Rica and throughout Latin America, is cause for serious concern. In just a few days, we took a thousand new photos and recorded eight hours of video, covering 14 bat species. Many of these will soon be available in our photo gallery for use wherever needed.

Additionally, we provided a bat lecture for an enthusiastic audience at the Harmony Hotel in Nosara and advised on bat conservation. The owners, John and Susan Johnson, and their staff have provided an oasis of native vegetation in an otherwise heavily developed resort area. And they have already attracted Thomas’s fruit-eating bats (Dermanura watsoni). These bats cut palm fronds to form “tents” along visitor pathways. We are also supplying a program for future visitors and hope to help Harmony attract and protect additional species.

Some of the 14 species photographed during our recent visit to Costa Rica.

Our members sponsor and participate in conservation activities, including hands-on workshops from the U.S. and Trinidad to Panama and Thailand. Our next opportunity will be on behalf of the world’s largest remaining aggregation of flying foxes in Zambia.

Workshop participants setting a triple-high net rig to capture bats and recording them in Panama.

As covered in our June 11, 2021 Bat Flash, 10 million straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) rear their young in Kasanka National Park. These bats annually migrate across thousands of kilometers of equatorial Africa, dispersing literally millions of pounds of seeds nightly, including those of the prized iroko timber tree. Their loss could prove devastating for whole ecosystems and economies. Nevertheless, the park’s efforts to prevent illegal, potentially disastrous harm have been repeatedly ignored. As in too many other instances, governments and even major conservation organizations often act only after a species declines into endangered status. The consequences are needlessly costly, and sometimes irreversible!

Thanks to the generous support of our members, we are funding restoration of the park’s neglected infrastructure. And in November, our members will participate in an on-location workshop in which we will help document the bats’ values and needs, bolster education for nearby communities, and promote media attention.

 

We’re small but have a long reach. Last year, thanks to a bat survey by volunteer members, we were able to provide important testimony before Ecuador’s highest court, aiding in its historic decision to halt illegal mining threats to one of our planet’s most important remaining rainforest ecosystems, including Los Cedros Reserve. Despite this huge win, there is much to be done.

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Tightly clustered straw-colored fruit bats roosting in Kasanka National Park.

Huge challenges remain. Nevertheless, with our members’ help, there is much we can still accomplish, often by assisting other organizations with our unique resources, especially with our still growing collection of photos documenting bat values and needs. Over the past two years, they’ve played a key role in empowering a wide variety of other organizations to better defend bats in a time of extraordinary threat.

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The spectacle of an estimated 10 million straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) preparing to depart for an evening feeding is an unforgettable experience.