A Model Example of Bat Recovery Potential

By Merlin Tuttle
9/25/19

 

Long Cave, in Kentucky, like many others, has a long history of human occupation with little record of prior use by bats. It was mined for saltpeter, a key ingredient of gun powder, during the war of 1812 and was subject to commercial tourism, probably beginning at about the turn of the century, ending by the 1930s.

Rick Toomey and Merlin Tuttle waiting for group to enter bat-friendly gate at Long Cave.

 

Huge passages trapped cold air and remained cool year-round, offering major opportunities for bat hibernation. Roost stains from past bat use were widespread, and the cave clearly had potential to shelter millions. As recently as 1947 some 50,000 bats, presumed to be largely the now endangered Indiana myotis (Myotis sodalis), continued to return in winter. Nevertheless, entrance barriers built to exclude non-paying tourists, increasingly restricted air flow, eventually culminating in a concrete wall and a nearly solid door. (more…)

Read More

Cave Management Workshop with Bat Survey Solutions

5/22/19
By Merlin Tuttle

Merlin explains “chimney-effect” air flow and its key importance in providing cave-dwelling bats with cold roosts for hibernation and warm ones for rearing young.

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. 

(more…)

Read More

Partnership for Bat Conservation and Management Training

9/19/18
By Merlin Tuttle

John Chenger and Julie Zeyzus interviewing Merlin for training video on bat cave management.

In early August, we accepted a partnership invitation to develop a series of bat conservation and management training videos. Though growing numbers of biologists are studying bats, few have the breadth of experience essential to meet their widely varying conservation needs. Each species has unique requirements. In order to better share my nearly 60 years of personal experience, John Chenger founder of Bat Conservation and Management, and Janet Tyburec founder of Bat Survey Solutions, invited me to collaborate. They are providing video shooting and editing, featuring my narration and illustrations.

Teresa Nichta (left) and Julie Zeyzus shooting slow motion video of Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) emergence.

 

 

 

Four programs are now being edited. The first, tentatively titled “Win Friends, not Battles,” explains key approaches that have most effectively won long-term cooperation. The second features the worldwide importance of bats. The third addresses greatly exaggerated disease claims, and the fourth deals with assessing cave suitability for bats and special long-term management needs.

Bad gate that caused abandonment by a large colony of cave myotis (Myotis velifer). New owners removed the gate, and the bats are now gradually returning.

Under John’s guidance, we began field shooting on August 15, greatly aided by Teresa Nichta and John’s associate, Julie Zeyzus. For the next 10 days there was little time for sleep or even eating. On my birthday, we spent seven hours filming underground, a great antidote for thinking of getting old!

Measuring roost stains left by a formerly large colony of cave myotis in a Texas cave. Stains can last for centuries, providing an invaluable estimate of past colony size.

 

Illustrating the need for such education, one of the caves we visited in a protected nature reserve, had lost its entire colony of tens of thousands of cave myotis when fire protection permitted entrance blockage by vegetation. Another cave, also well protected by its owner, had overgrowth of an invasive, introduced plant that could have prevented restoration of a formerly large colony. It only took minutes to eliminate the threat.

 

 

 

 

Videoing Brazilian free-tailed bats close-up in crevices between box beams.

Explaining how bat-friendly bridge designs have aided Texas farmers.

Sunset emergence of free-tailed bats.

Read More

White-Nose Syndrome: New Policies Needed for Cave Management

Merlin has updated our White-Nose Syndrome resource page. As he explains, WNS has now spread from coast to coast despite our best efforts. There is no longer hope of stopping, slowing or finding a cure that can be effectively applied. It is time to focus on helping the survivors rebuild populations from resistant remnants. Further surveys to detect spread of WNS have become pointless. We can’t help except by strictly protecting weakened survivors from disturbance, especially during hibernation. Members of the National Speleological Society have been extremely cooperative in efforts to slow or stop WNS, even agreeing to cease activities in their favorite caves, including many that do not support bats. There is no longer justification for closure of caves not needed by bats. In fact permitting wider caver access increases opportunities for recognition and protection of caves of past importance to bats, where populations could be restored with protection. Many caves that once provided critical habitat for bats remain unprotected simply because they lost their bats so long ago, that their importance is no longer recognized. No one is better prepared to detect, report and help protect such sites than organized cavers, and it is time for governmental and private conservation organizations to maximize cooperation with this key group of concerned volunteers. In this update Merlin provides helpful guidance on recognition of long lost bat caves that could be restored and urges full collaboration.

Read More

Teresa’s first cave experience

MTBC’s Teresa Nichta’s final story in this series of her first field trip with Merlin. Enjoy!

 

Unloading equipment to begin the ascent up Tamana Hill.
Merlin and the Trinibats team unloading equipment to begin the ascent up Tamana Hill.

 

 

 

For me, a much anticipated highlight of my Trinidad adventure was my first trip into a major bat cave. Tamana Cave shelters tens of thousands of bats including half a dozen species of an intriguing variety. But first, you have to get there! It’s a long, windy drive to the base of the “hill.” Once you can drive no further it’s time to begin the steep ascent to the top of Tamana Hill… (more…)

Read More

Letters from a Young Bat Scientist-No. 3

Alexis Valentine’s, aka “Bat Girl,” history project on Leadership & Legacy about Dr. Merlin Tuttle. Photo taken by Alexis’ mom Amy

 

October 20, 2014

Hi Dr. Tuttle,

How are you? Hope you guys are doing good. Say hi to Mrs. Tuttle for me. Below are the questions for my history project on Leadership & Legacy. Thanks for helping me!

Love,
Alexis 🙂
“Bat Girl”

 

 

 

 

1. What event inspired you to want to protect bats?

2. Was it difficult to get BCI started?

3. What is your favorite bat?

4. Can you please give me a quote for my project about bat conservation?

Merlin as a teenager emerging from a tight passage in a Tennessee cave while searching for gray bats.

October 30, 2014

Hi Alexis,

The following are my responses to your questions. Good luck with your project!

1. It wasn’t just one event. It was an accumulation of seeing lots of gray bat colonies being destroyed. I was aware that these bats were harmless and highly beneficial. However public health officials were claiming them to be dangerous carriers of rabies despite the fact that no one had ever gotten rabies from a gray bat, or that getting rabies from any kind of bat was extremely rare. I couldn’t resist explaining this to cave owners, and when they changed from killing to protecting their bats, I was encouraged to do more.

2. Founding Bat Conservation International required hard work. When I founded BCI most people were extremely frightened of bats. Even leading conservation organizations avoided them like the plague, considering them to be too unpopular to be helped. I had to spend huge amounts of time preparing scientific documentation and learning to put claims of disease dangers in perspective. For example, I pointed out that while only two people, on average, die of bat rabies each year in the U.S. 20-30 are killed by dogs. How could we consider bats dangerous and dogs safe, given these facts? In the end the facts about bat values versus risks are so strong that they are easy to defend if we just arm ourselves with the facts. Great success in life can only be achieved by tackling great challenges.

3. I don’t have a favorite bat, though I especially enjoy working with carnivorous species, because they seem to be exceptionally intelligent. But even the tiny woolly bats that I recently worked with in Borneo turned out to be far smarter than I had ever imagined, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. Check out the video of them bumping me in the nose to gain my attention to feed them (see woolly bat blogs on my web site at merlintuttle.com).

4. Bats provide essential ecological services required to keep our planet healthy. We cannot ignore their plight without risking our own future.

Paula says hi.

Very best wishes,
Merlin

November 4, 2014

Hi Dr. Tuttle,

Thanks so much for answering my bat questions. History fair is in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes. Science fair is coming up too. 🙂

My history project is called “Batman of BCI” and my science fair project is called “Bat Chat–using echolocation to determine WNS effects.”

Talk to you soon. Tell Mrs. Tuttle hi for me. Have fun and be safe on your next bat trip.

Have a “Bat”tastic Day,
Alexis
“Bat Girl”

 

Read More

Thailand Bat Cave Revisited

Merlin meeting with the head monk at Wat Khao Chong Pran who was happy to see him again.
Merlin meeting with the head monk at Wat Khao Chong Phran who was happy to see him return.

We arrived at Wat Khao Chong Phran unannounced and surprisingly the head monk agreed to see us immediately on the same porch where we met him with Daniel Hargreaves in 2012 (See Sept. 20 blog Guano happens). Merlin even wore the same shirt, his favorite field shirt! Pongsanant, our BatThai guide and interpreter then and now, told us the monk was quite happy to see us again. We had a short visit and were granted permission to go up to the cave entrance to photograph the emergence. We made an appointment to see him the following morning to discuss our findings.

MDT_TH4_C3_5203
Merlin at the cave entrance with our guide Pongsanant interpreting, while he explains to the head guard and a monk which trees and vines need trimming for the safety of the bats as they emerge each night.

The wrinkle-lipped bat (Chaerephon plicatus) colony had been slowly declining in recent years, despite protection, so Merlin was concerned to discover why. After climbing to the cave we noticed that trees and vines had gradually grown up around the entrance, disrupting the bats’ emergence, as thousands collided with obstacles. We saw clear problems that in other free-tailed bat caves have caused abandonment and reported this the next morning. Merlin was happy to provide an on-site explanation and delighted when the tree trimming was promptly ordered. The cave managers are now aware that this should be repeated every couple of years in the future as a routine part of protection.

Given Merlin’s involvement in gaining the first protection for these bats 34 years ago, he’s especially interested in ensuring their continued safety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read More