Wherever we go, Merlin and MTBC serve as captivating ambassadors for bats, normally making a lasting difference in each country visited. We provide media appearances, public lectures, training sessions and much needed conservation advice in addition to photographs essential to public education.
COVID concerns forced cancellation of most face-to-face speaking engagements and workshops in 2021. Nevertheless, thanks to outstanding support from concerned colleagues and members, we were able to provide a wide variety of webinars, YouTube videos and other educational materials. A single YouTube video by Ze Frank, promoting Merlin’s efforts on behalf of bats, reached over a million viewers. And another we produced for use at Inner Space Cavern, a Texas tour cave, is enabling Merlin to reach more than 300,000 visitors annually.
Finally, in November, Merlin was able to provide a half-day workshop face-to-face at the 2021 National Cave and Karst Symposium in San Marcos, Texas. He demonstrated the key importance of restoring and protecting caves of historically critical importance.
This was a critical year for education countering unprecedented media speculation erroneously sensationalizing bats as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to COVID restrictions, Merlin’s final in-person public speaking event of the year occurred on January 14. It was hosted by Costa Rica’s Harmony Hotel for enthusiastic guests and community leaders. Ongoing collaboration is planned.
Merlin’s first webinar of 2020 was titled “Are Bats Really to Blame for the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It reached a record international audience hosted by the U.S. Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes. Merlin subsequently reached large national and international audiences through eight additional webinars and six podcasts, allaying exaggerated disease fears and explaining the essential values of bats.
Teresa Nichta and Daniel Whitby led a rapid bat survey at Los Cedros Reserve in Ecuador, one of our planet’s most important areas of biodiversity and plant and animal endemism. Yet it is under threat of destruction by international mining interests. The survey results provide documentation of the invaluable bat population on the reserve and surrounding areas to be used in the court case. Merlin testified in Ecuador’s Constitutional Court court (via Zoom) on behalf of critical habitat and imminent illegal destruction of one of our planet’s most biodiverse hotspots. The case will set a precedent with potential worldwide implications. This assisted in film production of Marrow of the Mountain, which serves as an important step in creating accountability for multinational extractive industry.
MTBC partnered with the National Park Service to produce a 3-minute video titled Bat Fears in Perspective.
In addition to Merlin’s five speaking engagements in the U.S., he, Teresa Nichta, Daniel Hargreaves, and Daniel Whitby led a citizen scientist group to Thailand where they met with the abbot in charge of protecting and managing the famous Khao Chong Pran Cave, whose millions of bats have gradually rebuilt since Merlin gained their protection in 1981. They were joined by Surapon Duangkhae, who nearly 40 years earlier, had become concerned about conserving bats while serving as Merlin’s field assistant. With Merlin’s encouragement, he had become one of Southeast Asia’s leading conservationists, and was delighted to serve as Merlin’s interpreter for meetings with the abbot and game wardens assigned to protect this key bat colony. Critical management advice was provided, and Merlin and Surapon also spoke to local school children and provided a bat program for leadership staff at Thailand’s National Museum of Natural History. Merlin used photos from that and previous trips to Thailand to prepare educational and management programs which Surapon translated.
Merlin provided seven speaking engagements ranging from Texas to Wisconsin, including a keynote address at the Cape May Birding Festival in New Jersey. He also reached audiences in all 50 U.S. states and 108 countries through his radio and television interviews.
We hosted two member workshops at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama March 12-27, 2018. Merlin Tuttle and Teresa Nichta partnered with Daniel Hargreaves, from the United Kingdom, his crew of experienced volunteers, Daniel Whitby and Steve and Fiona Parker, also from the U.K., and Melissa Donnelly from Canada. They provided invaluable leadership in nightly netting, keying and recording that included more than 600 bats of 53 species. Training included bat capture, handling, identification and record keeping by the U.K. crew and bat training, behavior, photography and conservation by Merlin. Thanks to Paula Tuttle and Teresa Nichta, logistics, blog reporting, and photography also went exceptionally well.
On November 21, 2017, Merlin provided the inaugural address for the joint annual meeting of the Biology and Ecology Societies of Chile.
On September 15, 2017, Merlin spoke and responded to questions from epidemiologists for two hours at a bats and viruses seminar at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On September 18, he provided the keynote address for a joint, annual meeting of the Brazilian Bat and Mammal Societies in Pirenopolis.
From June 9 to 25 Merlin and Paula traveled to Taiwan to promote bat conservation. They taught bat photography and conservation techniques while taking 1,836 new photographs of bats, including rare Formosan golden bats (Myotis formosus flavus) rearing young in their foliage roosts, Lesser Asian yellow bats (Scotophilus kuhlii) rearing young in bat houses and Formosan lesser horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus monoceros) and a newly discovered species of Vesper bat (Kerivoula sp.) capturing one of Taiwan’s most costly crop pests, the Oriental leafworm moth (Spodoptera litura). This is one of the most important agricultural pests of Asia, Austral Asia and the Pacific Islands. Our photos of bats capturing these moths in flight are the first of their kind and should prove especially useful in convincing farmers of the need to conserve bats.
Merlin also provided lectures to enthusiastic audiences at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science and its Endemic Species Research Institute, as well as at the Formosan Golden Bat’s Home (a museum and Cheng Zheng Elementary School dedicated to promoting bat conservation). Finally, we documented that, contrary to frequent warnings in the U.S. that bats should never be permitted near school children for fear of disease, in the 10 years since attracting bats to more than 100 bat houses at this school, not one of some 500 children has been harmed despite frequent close encounters with bats.
March 16 to April 2 we worked with two volunteer teams organized by Trinibats, an organization devoted to conserving Trinidadian bats. This island hosts one of the world’s most diverse bat faunas, but until recently bats had been neglected in conservation planning, viewed only as vermin. As the teams worked to document important roosts and habitats needing protection, we helped with field training and photographically documented the bats and their values, as well as the team’s activities, donating photos in support of the organization’s conservation efforts. View the photos here!
December 13 to 18, we photographed Florida bonneted bats (Eumops floridanus), North America’s rarest, most endangered bats, so rare they were once thought to be extinct. This is the final U.S. species in Merlin’s North American collection of bat photos for conservation education. We assisted state and federal wildlife officials in documenting the species, as well as their critical research on the bats’ needs. Photos of this beautiful bat and from the trip are available in the photo gallery!
March 19 to April 8, Merlin and Paula traveled to Cambodia. Merlin presented an exceptionally popular, hour-long plenary speech at the 2015 annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Associates of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), emphasizing the importance of documenting how humans benefit from conserving bats. The meeting was attended by representatives from 22 countries who met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He also co-chaired a bat research symposium and taught a workshop on conservation and management of cave-dwelling bats. Merlin and Paula (assisted by a much valued volunteer, Jeff Acopian) arrived two weeks early for a trip to assess and consult on local conservation priorities and photograph Cambodian bats for the country’s first book on bats. The book is a non-profit work to promote bat conservation. More than 2,100 new bat photos were taken, especially documenting the value of cave protection and artificial roost construction that is a lucrative source of income in several Cambodian communities. The best of these images, combined with approximately 50 of Merlin’s already existing photos of Asian bats known to occur in Cambodia, were donated for use in that country’s conservation efforts. This trip was made possible through generous donations from Daniel and Heidi Hargreaves, Dudley and Mari Houghton and Scott and Hella McVay. View the photos here!
From Cambodia, Merlin and Paula and Jeff Acopian flew directly to Thailand where they worked April 9 to 28. They discovered the apparent cause of recent decline in the huge free-tailed bat population of Khao Chong Pran Cave. Vegetation had encroached on the cave entrance, restricting flight and causing needless mortality. This was easily remedied by strategic tree trimming. Still in Thailand, they visited two Buddhist temple courtyards where relatively tame, protected Lyle’s flying foxes (Pteropus lyei) could be photographed unusually close up. The resulting cute photos of mothers with their pups will be used in support of efforts to gain protection for the species in Cambodia. The remainder of the Thai trip was spent collaborating with Dr. Sara Bumrungsri and his graduate students in bat biology at the Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai, helping develop educational materials to gain protection for rapidly declining bats essential to pollination of lucrative durian crops. Bats were photographed pollinating a variety of important plants, including durian and mangroves. Nearly 3,000 photos were taken, the best of which were donated for conservation use in Thailand and Cambodia. See Merlin’s photos from Thailand here!
While helping document Caroline and Michael Schoner’s Ph.D. thesis research on woolly bats living in pitcher plants (August 9 to 30) Merlin and Paula took nearly 2,500 photos of this special bat-plant relationship and provided photos for use in professional seminars and public lectures. These photos subsequently reached millions of people with positive messages through stories on popular internet sites, scientific journals and other publications. Additionally, Merlin provided an hour-long lecture on the importance and conservation needs of bats at the University of Brunei Darussalam for the Brunei Nature Society, the country’s leading conservation group, and donated a collection of 51 photos illustrating bat diversity and values.
On June 14, Merlin spoke at the British Counsel Education Center in Sophia. His talk, The Amazing World of Bats, was covered by varied news media, including more than 10 minutes on national television. He also appeared in a widely covered press conference, and trained two bat biologist graduate students: Daniela Schmieder and Antoniya Hubancheva. Antoniya received our first student scholarship award, covering special training in Africa. Merlin and Paula and their graduate student assistants also photographed seven genera and 14 species of bats (portraits), including great shots of several species catching prey and roosting. Bulgarian conservationists now have these outstanding images for use in public education. View photos here!
South Africa 2014
Merlin and Paula spent March 27 to April 29 assisting with bat conservation efforts in South Africa. Merlin spoke to students and professors at the University of Pretoria and to the public at Ridgeway College in the town of Louis Trichart in Limpopo Province. Most importantly, Merlin was able to donate outstanding new photos of 10 genera and 16 species of South African bats, including action shots of slit-faced bats capturing green stink bugs, the most costly pest of macadamia nut orchards. After Merlin spoke to the South Africa Macadamia Growers Association, they funded two Ph.D. thesis projects, supervised by local bat biologist Dr. Peter Taylor, to study how to attract more bats to orchards. View the photo gallery here!
On March 21, Merlin provided the keynote address, The Amazing World of Bats, for the All Taxa Biodiversity Index Conference annual meeting, hosted by Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. On the following evening he was honored by a special award from the Mayor of Knoxville and gave a public lecture on the importance of bats as pollinators.