Merlin Tuttle began building his Bat Photo Collection in 1966 while leading expeditions for the Smithsonian in Venezuela. It includes 374 bat species and the world’s most comprehensive coverage of bat diversity, behavior, and values. It is irreplaceable and has served as literally the backbone of science, education and conservation, illustrating bats worldwide for over 60 years, and counting! Dr. Tuttle’s photos have been featured in five National Geographic articles and thousands of other publications, exhibits, and educational programs.
Nevertheless, film gradually deteriorates, and damage and loss are inevitable. Kodachrome slides had to be individually retrieved and returned systematically to containers in a climate-controlled vault. Additionally, the process was labor-intensive and therefore became prohibitively costly to manage.
The Bat Scan Project ensures long-term protection and a secure backup of the collection at multiple locations. It also, for the first time, enables instant keyword searches, dramatically reducing the cost of servicing requests. The project began in August 2015 when we hired Teresa Nichta to take charge. Thanks to generous assistance from members and donors, we’re making excellent progress.
In 2017, Renee Cornue was hired to expedite the completion of the scanning. Approximately 100,000 35 mm Kodachrome slides of bats were sorted, and the best 18,000 of these were additionally scanned, keyworded, and archived by early 2019. We then began organizing information and editing to repair decades of accumulated damage (scratches, dust etching, and color shifts).
To maximize collection availability during the Bat Scan Project, we selected 2,000 images representing a wide diversity of species, behavior, and values and gave them priority attention for early finalization of editing, captioning, and entry in our Bat Photos Gallery. These include 19 families of bats, 125 genera and 298 species from 38 countries. They are already available at a small handling fee to non-profit education and conservationists worldwide, and at reasonable fees to commercial publishers. All fees support collection maintenance.
The project has been divided into three phases. Phase I began with Merlin’s personal review of each slide, selecting for quality and importance and updating for taxonomic changes. Since he began his collection the number of recognized species has grown from fewer than 850 to nearly 1,400. Taxonomists have divided some into six or more, and others have been synonymized, creating a major challenge just to ensure correct identifications! As of January 2018, Phase I of the project (sorting, scanning, and keywording was approximately 75% complete) and was finished on schedule by late 2018. This was the most urgent part due to the age of the slides and the need to end deterioration.
Phase II is scheduled for completion by end of 2021. The primary goal of this phase is editing, captioning, and fact-checking. This is required for all of the 18,000 scanned images as well as for many of the 77,000 digital images (increasing annually). This will require a minimum of one full-time and one half-time employee through 2021.
Phase III involves long-term collection management and informational updates. We additionally anticipate that a full-time collection manager will be required thereafter for ensuring efficient use, proper maintenance, and security.
Currently Merlin and MTBC staff also add 2,000 to 3,000 new photos and a growing number of videos annually. Teresa additionally shares both scans and new images through social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter). Selections of the best and most likely to be requested images are periodically added to our website. The remainder will be held in reserve, available on special request.
The entire digitized Merlin Tuttle Bat Collection is bequeathed permanently to MTBC, with specified conditions for management and for succession if needed. The plan is for MTBC, led by Dr. Tuttle, to develop an endowed bat education center in Austin where his unsurpassed bat documentation can provide a firm foundation for exemplary education while documenting the many benefits of living in harmony with nature, even with traditionally feared bats.
We especially thank an anonymous donor, Bettina and Travis Mathis, The Brown Foundation, the Hershey Foundation, The Herb and Joan Kelleher Foundation, The Steves Foundation, the Verne and Marion Read family, Jeff and Helen Acopian, and Mindy Vescovo for critical early funding.
Donations on behalf of the ongoing project are much needed and deeply appreciated. Our goal is to ensure preservation of Dr. Tuttle’s priceless legacy for bats, beginning with the Bat Scan Project, culminating in endowment support that will ensure long-term availability.