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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
MTBC’s Teresa Nichta’s final story in this series of her first field trip with Merlin. Enjoy!
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…)
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!
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?
October 30, 2014
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.