On arrival at the Selva Verde Eco Lodge in Costa Rica, Merlin and I immediately noticed an unexpected sight – a bat house with a sign and logo prepared by our soon-to-be guide and friend, “Bat Henry.” Our mission would have been impossible without his experienced guidance. His work is a testament to the power of community scientist volunteers.
Upon meeting him, the first thing we noticed about Henry was his bright, highlighter yellow t-shirt with white tent-making bats on the front and a large bat house on stilts on the back. The bat house was Henry’s own design, capable of holding up to 500 bats. Our next insight was his seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm. Despite spending a week in the humid, tropical rainforest with him, I can’t recall ever seeing him detectably tired.
Such energy is vital considering everything he does! Before and after shifts as a lodge gardener 3 to 4 days a week, he devotes his time to helping both people and bats. He volunteers with bat rescues, conducts weekly checks of bat houses, and provides intensive bat care 2 or 3 times a month if needed – only sleeping 15 minutes every 5 hours for up to three days at a time! At Selva Verde, he cares for bats in both forests and bungalows. At Lapa Verde he gives monthly talks to university students and builds bat houses. Both lodges sometimes give him a small fee for his time.
He also does environmental education work for school children and people from nearby villages. He explains how people benefit from helping bats (reducing mosquitoes and other pests and keeping forests healthy). But he is also quick to assist people in solving problems when bats become a nuisance, even making house calls when bats inadvertently enter human living quarters.
Most requests for his assistance result from too many insect-, fruit-, or nectar-eating bats attempting to form large colonies in buildings. Insect-eating species can number in the hundreds or even thousands. In such instances their droppings and/or vocalizations can cause problems. However, they bite people only in self-defense if handled. Such bats would normally be mistaken for vampires and killed, but if safely evicted, they can become invaluable neighbors! Thanks to Henry’s tireless efforts, more and more people are overcoming needless fear and even inviting bats into their neighborhoods by providing bat houses. In helping people solve real, or even perceived problems, and explaining the many benefits of protecting bats, Henry is providing an outstanding example of the effectiveness of saving bats by winning friends instead of battles.
To date, he has helped evict and provide alternate homes for more than 2,000 bats from 15 locations.
Thanks to his extensive experience, Henry has become an expert at finding bats, including some of the least seen species. Soon after our arrival, he led us to a shallow cavity in the hollow base of a fallen tree stump deep in the rain forest. It was occupied by five seldom seen chestnut sac-winged bats (Cormura brevirostris). They were virtually invisible, resembling shingles as they roosted in an overlapping group. Their color almost perfectly matched that of the stump. In fact, it took Henry several minutes to help us see them even from just three meters away!
MTBC member and colleague, Daniel Hargreaves, provided the trip highlight when he purchased and donated Henry’s first power tools for bat house building, including a table saw. We additionally contributed a signed copy of “The Bat House Guide,” and Merlin explained how best to exclude snakes and other bat-eating predators from climbing into his houses.
We are additionally preparing a video on Costa Rican bats, which we hope to share with Henry and his government supervisors to further aid their efforts.