Bat Scan Project
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 40 years. 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 early 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.
We hosted our first 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.
Sixteen participants enthusiastically improved their bat handling, photography, and conservation skills while providing the first major survey of the reserve’s bats and greatly aiding local staff in their knowledge of bats. All participants, and Michael Roy, the reserve founder, and director will receive Merlin’s photos of the 21 species he photographed, including a diverse array of portraits and behavior. Of course, participants also took many more of their own, greatly contributing to their ability to serve as ambassadors for bats. Thanks to the extreme dedication of all concerned, we were able to document the presence of more than half of the species known from the entire country!
We hope to provide these hands-on opportunities annually for our members while expanding knowledge of bats and their unique conservation requirements at locations of special need worldwide.
Major Bat Book Publication
Using 373 of Merlin’s bat photos a new 400-page book produced by Quarto Publishing in London titled, “Bats: An Illustrated Guide to all Species” was published in April 2019. It will be printed in at least nine languages, in the U.S. by the Smithsonian Institution. It is affordable to the public due to MTBC waiver of royalties. As Science Editor, Merlin has had major influence in ensuring an accurate, conservation-relevant presentation.
Ambassadorial Appearances for Bats
Wherever he goes Merlin is a captivating ambassador for bats, normally making a lasting difference in each country visited. He provides media appearances, public lectures, training sessions and much needed conservation advice in addition to photographs essential to public education.
On November 21, Merlin provided the inaugural address for the joint annual meeting of the Biology and Ecology Societies of Chile.
On September 15, 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.
TAIWAN – 2016
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, contary 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.
TRINIDAD – 2016
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!
FLORIDA – 2015
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!
CAMBODIA – 2015
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!
THAILAND – 2015
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!
BORNEO – 2014
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.
BULGARIA – 2014
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.
Merlin’s book, The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals, was released on October 20, 2015, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Amazon featured it on its top-10 book list in non-fiction, and it received uniformly outstanding reviews, including in The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, National Geographic Book Talk, and Nature. Sharing highlights from a lifetime of adventure and discovery, Merlin takes readers to the frontiers of research and discovery, replacing the fear of the unknown with a profound appreciation for these long-neglected but essential animals. More than 50 media interviews reached tens of millions of people worldwide with his message about bats.