For at least the second time this year, The New York Times has published facts involving bats and disease in a misleading manner. At a time when bats are in special need of conservation, scary speculation is extremely counterproductive. In February of this year, we issued a Bat Flash, and members contacted Times authors and editors to caution them about the negative impact of premature disease speculation.
Now bats need you to speak up again. On June 14, 2019, I responded with the following communication to The New York Times Editor:
I read with interest the recent article, “Bats, Not Dogs, Are the Most Common Source of Rabies,” by James Gorman. As a biologist who has studied and photographed hundreds of species of bats worldwide, I have personally documented instances in which thousands, even millions of bats have been burned in their caves due to misleading warnings that incite needless fear. In fact, fear of bats is often the single greatest impediment to their conservation.
I’m deeply concerned because bats are essential to whole economies and ecosystems upon which we, ourselves, depend. Their loss threatens our future, far more than any possible disease transmission. Education regarding the benefits of conserving bats is urgently needed. (more…)
Loss of essential roosts, especially those in caves, appears to be the most important cause of North American bat decline and endangerment. Millions of bats have been lost from single caves, initially due to saltpeter extraction for gun powder, and later when they were further altered for tourism. Some caves were even burned due to exaggerated fear of bats.
In recent decades, there have been numerous opportunities to recognize mistakes from the past as well as opportunities for the future. One way to address these issues is through cave management training. Bat Survey Solutions held a workshop in San Marcos, Texas from May 7-9, where attendees were provided with examples of a variety of case histories and what they’ve taught us.
This year’s member night
bat cruise was, as usual, a fun event and included MTBC members from as far
away as the United Kingdom. Due to unusually frequent spring showers, the bats
have been waiting till sundown to emerge, but are still attracting large crowds
Our April 12 cruise participants enjoyed a large, three-column emergence that began soon after sundown. If our August 16 cruise is equal to those of the past three years, the emergence will begin before sundown and include four great columns, a truly spectacular event, the best of the year. Leadership and above members receive first-priority bookings for these free nights with me and our staff. Space is limited. Make your reservations early. Don’t miss out!
We want to thank each of you who contacted Mayor Bob Manning in response to our Bat Flash in March on behalf of an urgent threat to Australia’s now critically endangered spectacled flying foxes. We appear to be having important impact, as just reported by Sera Steves, Secretary, Bats and Trees Society of Cairns.
“The mayor and council are visibly and vocally struck by the amount of email responses they’ve gotten, good work! However, they continue to hide behind the false idea that a dispersal is for the good of the bats. The welfare argument needs to be shot out of the air and the focus needs to be on tourism potential. The feedback from tourists proved valuable in response to an article in the Cairns post about dispersing the bats with pool noodles, pyrotechnics, gas guns, stock whips and air horns.”
As MTBC’s Photo Collection Administrator, much of my responsibility lies behind a computer screen. I’d seen thousands (about 120,000 if we’re being real) of photographs from Merlin’s most-active field work days, preparing me for what to expect as much as photographs can. I’d seen mist nets, harp traps, banded bats, guano piles, and evidence of the bats’ incredible diversity.
Though fortunate to see Austin’s bats in a variety of ways, I’d never worked with bats first-hand. On this trip, I was most excited to step away from the desk and learn how bats are studied in the field, especially surrounded by knowledgeable and talented peers.
As with MTBC’s past adventures, our trip was a hands-on working trip with invaluable time and expertise contributed by leading colleagues from varied specialties. We were in the company of expert bat researchers, photographers, videographers, rehabilitators, consultants and passionate citizen scientists as we searched for some of the least known bats in the U.S.
The Bat Association at Texas State University (BATS) in San Marcos is only a few months old, but already boasts more than 150 members. Its mission is to raise awareness and concern for these long neglected, but essential animals.
The organization’s three main goals are to share hands-on opportunities to learn about bats, network with professionals, and spread awareness of bat values and needs. It is led by Jacob Rogers (President) and Danielle Cordani (Vice President), under the supervision of Assistant Professor, Sarah Fritts. They’re planning a wide variety of special events to raise interest and concern, including field trips, invited lectures, bat house building projects, and opportunities for graduate students to share their experiences.
Merlin was their invited speaker on February 26. His topic, “Planning a Career—Why Bats?” His mission was to introduce bats as a too-long overlooked gold mine of research need and opportunity and to provide tips on how to succeed as a scientist. His advice–Follow your passion. Address issues most relevant to humans. Practice strong science. Seek mentor opportunities. And learn to entertain. Of course, the message was well illustrated with “How to” examples, including photography and public sharing.
The response was overwhelming. Following his formal presentation, he was peppered with enthusiastic questions for another hour.
Atlas Obscura features travel, exploration and hosts a collaborative guide to worldwide locations of special interest. Bats seem a perfect fit with a publication featuring the world’s hidden wonders! This week, they hosted their first Austin bat watching event, an armada of more than 50 kayakers, led by organization co-founder Dylan Thuras and Merlin Tuttle and sponsored by SXSW, Gore-Tex and Congress Avenue Kayaks.
Merlin provided a brief dockside introduction to the Congress Avenue Bridge’s famous free-tailed bats and an introduction to the diversity and importance of bats worldwide. Participants came from as far away as Australia and Brazil and peppered Merlin with enthusiastic questions. The event was so popular that an unfortunately large number of hopeful registrants had to be turned away.
It was a beautiful spring evening, and some 200,000 overwintering bats emerged prior to sundown. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to arrive soon, migrating north from overwintering caves in Mexico. Unusual entertainment was provided by two small falcons, extraordinarily determined to feast on bats. Fortunately for viewers rooting for the bats, these two hawks turned out to be the least competent bat catchers Merlin has ever seen. We counted more than 20 failed chases! (more…)
CairnsMayor, Bob Manning, wants to force flying fox survivors to leave his city. This is planned for the near future, making it an urgent issue. Recent heat stress and starvation have killed 1/3 of the flying foxes in his city. Survivors remain in grave danger. One simple, impactful thing we can do is email this Australian mayor, email@example.com, politely asking him to stop all planned efforts to chase endangered flying foxes from their traditional homes in Cairns. They’re already desperate, and many more may die if forced to move.
Our combined voices can make a difference. Send an email to Mayor Bob Manning to politely make him aware of international concern for Australia’s flying foxes. Cairns is a major tourist destination where potential visitors have extraordinary influence. He just needs to know you like flying foxes and hope to see them protected as some of his country’s most valuable and fascinating wildlife. It’s numbers that count. Australia’s flying foxes need all of you!
Just as we enter a period of exceptional need for reliable science to protect and restore a healthy planet, too many traditionally prestigious science journals and institutions are rewarding bad science.(1)(2) “Scientists are supposed to relentlessly probe the fabric of reality with the most rigorous and skeptical of methods.”(3) Yet traditionally credible journals like Nature and Science are increasingly publishing sensational speculation, particularly studies attempting to link bats to deadly diseases.(4)
Growing numbers are attempting to prove rather than test hypotheses, sometimes based on a sample of just one viral fragment from a single bat.(5) Kai Kupferschmidt’s article titled, “This bat species may be the source of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa,” exemplifies the problem. It is based on a highly questionable sample from one bat, though it appeared in the online news site of the journal Science (January 24, 2019).
As is typical in such stories, it begins with a scary question that will grab readership and media attention. That Science title is followed by a emboldened quote stating that “This is an important new lead and it should be followed up extensively.”
Later quotes, less emphasized, admit that only a small viral fragment was found, and that it may have come from an infected insect eaten by the bat. In other words, this bat may have simply eaten an Ebola-carrying insect, completely changing the bat’s role from implied source to controller. Perhaps if virologists weren’t so focused on proving that Ebola comes from bats, they might have found the true source by now.
A growing number of leading virologists are warning that virus hunting, promoted by such articles, is a costly waste. The unsupportable public health promises being made are likely to demean the credibility of science.(6) Scientists need incentives for finding the right answer rather than for simply getting published.(1)
Kupferschmidt’s article ends with a warning that bats shouldn’t be killed. However, as already documented, people seldom tolerate and often kill animals they fear, especially bats.(7)(8)
The New York Times ran a similar account of the same story, authored by Denise Grady. It was titled “Deadly Ebola Virus Is Found in Liberian Bat, Researchers Say.” The author admits “It feels premature scientifically” but fails to admit that the small viral fragment may have come from an infected insect eaten by the bat, making the bat a potential aid in limiting the spread of Ebola. They too, belatedly and ineffectively, admonish not to kill bats.
Sensational and premature reports like these are clearly irresponsible and risk great harm to both scientific credibility and the environment. (more…)
Today’s issue of TheScientist contains another outstanding example of how MTBC is making a unique, but critical difference for bats. This article [by Merlin Tuttle] was originally submitted as an email to the editor. On January 13, I explained the harm done by biased portrayal of bats. The editor promptly requested permission to publish my communication as an op-ed. We encourage our members to share it broadly. Nothing can threaten bats more than the fear and intolerance created by misleading disease stories.
Speculation linking bats to scary diseases has become lucrative, both in generating research grants and media readership. As historically documented, it can have devastating impact in fostering intolerance and even massive bat eradication. It also threatens the credibility of scientists and publishers and diverts critical public health funding from far higher priorities.
Many authors and publishers of such counterproductive speculation are well intended, just misinformed. If kindly approached with sound documentation of the harm being done, they are appreciative and can be extremely helpful as we have repeatedly demonstrated.
Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation is the most recent contribution by Merlin Tuttle to the world of bats. With over 50 years of in-depth knowledge and experience Merlin Tuttle, renowned bat expert, educator and wildlife photographer founded MTBC with one true goal in mind; teaching the world to understand and appreciate the vital contributions bats make to human beings and the world we live in.