Return of “Batgirl” Alexis

Alexis won 1st place & Grand Champ, the 2017 SASEF Regional Science Fair.

I have a very special treat, especially for those of you who have wondered what our bat prodigy, Alexis Valentine, has been up to lately. We met Alexis following one of Merlin’s lectures in 2014. She had been winning science fair prizes for her work with bats and speaking annually at the local Rotary Club since the third grade. She also had begun her own research on bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Read past blog posts, Letters from a Young Scientist 1 – 10) Alexis still keeps in touch, and we are very proud of Batgirl!  She’s still competing and winning in science fairs, speaking at professional bat conferences, conducting continuing bat research in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and enlightening folks about the many benefits of bats to people. I hope you enjoy reading about Alexis’ most recent activities in her own words as much as I do. Please join me in giving her a big “atta(bat)girl”! For young people interested in starting their own early careers in science and conservation, Merlin has just posted a new resource, titled Advice for Young People Interested in Science and Conservation.

“Hello Mr. & Mrs. Tuttle,

How have you guys  been? Great I hope!

I started high school and have maintained straight As in my classes. I even took honors biology. I’ve been an active member of the Bat Squad. I was even invited to be a guest speaker at the 22nd Annual Southern Bat Diversity Network in Asheville, NC last month. I gave a speech about my bat research and WNS in the National Park. There were over 200 scientists and people from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife department at the conference. It was really exciting. It was also neat to get to meet Logan, another kid from the Bat Squad group.

I’m still competing in as many science fairs as I can to spread the word about helping bats. Last month I competed at the county fair and won 1st place and overall Grand Champion. It was my first year in the high school division. Yesterday I competed in the regional Southern Appalachian Science & Engineering Fair (SASEF) in Knoxville at UT. I had a lot of judges ask me questions. There was even a chemist from Oak Ridge who wanted to know how to pronounce Pseudogymnoascus destructans and what it was. Tomorrow night is the awards ceremony so hopefully I’ll have some good news soon.

Alexis extracts a bat from the library

This week the librarian at my school called me because a bat got into the rafters during parent teacher conference night and lots of people were scared. I went back to school and removed the bat. It was a healthy Big Brown bat. I waited until night fall to release the bat. I lifted the lid off the box and by morning he safely flew away. Batgirl to the rescue! I wonder if I’ll get extra credit  😊

I hope to see you guys again soon!
Love and miss you guys,

“Batgirl”
Alexis”

We’ll get to see Alexis in October at the North American Society for Bat Research annual meeting in Knoxville where she’s been invited to speak. Can’t wait!

 

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Australian Flying Foxes Need Help

By Merlin Tuttle
1/10/17

As one who in 1985 played a lead role in convincing the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for the Environment and Planning, Bob Carr, to provide statewide protection for flying foxes, I am extremely disappointed to see  such progress reversed decades later by a predecessor. Grey-headed flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers upon which many of Australia’s unique plants and animals rely.

Nevertheless, their numbers have declined dramatically over the past hundred years. They first were massively exterminated by fruit growers, because during periodic droughts, when forests failed to flower, starving bats would invade orchards. Thanks to excellent research, orchards can now be protected. However, the bats’ traditional roosting habitats often have been overrun by urbanization. Once again these bats are in trouble, often with few options remaining. In small numbers, they may be enjoyed. But during unpredictable spikes in gum tree flowering, these sophisticated commuters can be attracted long distances. When bats weighing up to two pounds and having wingspans of more than three feet suddenly increase by as much as 10-fold, noise and odor can become a serious problem.

Gray-headed and other flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers for Australian forests. However, they are killed in massive numbers during occasional droughts when native trees fail to flower, forcing them to resort ot orchard fruit which could be protected with netting.
Gray-headed and other flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers for Australian forests. This grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) pollinating a rose gum tree (Angophora costata). Flying foxes are the continent’s most important long-distance pollinators and seed dispersers. However, they are killed in massive numbers during occasional droughts when native trees fail to flower, forcing them to resort to orchard fruit which could be protected with netting.

Excellent means of protecting fruit orchards have been developed, but urban nuisances have not yet been studied sufficiently to find viable solutions. As flying fox experts, Justin Welbergen and Peggy Eby recently explained in their insightful article, Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying foxes in urban Australiagrey-headed flying foxes can travel thousands of kilometers in a single year and quickly respond to changing conditions far beyond the boundaries of any one state. To resolve nuisances without loss of essential services, we must learn much more about what attracts them to specific roosts and how best to provide suitable alternatives when their choices create nuisances. (more…)

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Response to long-term oil & gas draft permit proposal

Merlin has been asked to comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal to prepare a draft of a 50-year environmental impact statement that will affect bats and humans.

Proposal Summary–The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announces their intent to prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for proposed issuance of an incidental take permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the draft Oil & Gas Coalition Multi-State Habitat Conservation Plan (O&G HCP). The O&G HCP is being developed to streamline environmental permitting and compliance with the ESA for nine companies in conjunction with their respective midstream and upstream oil and gas exploration, production, and maintenance activities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia over a 50-year period. The companies have indicated that they intend to request ITP coverage for five bat species: The endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the threatened northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), the eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii), and the tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus).

For more information and details about the intended proposal, click HERE.

Merlin has provided his statement below after discussing the proposal with a U.S. FWS representative.

We invite you to leave your comments as well via this link. The deadline for comments is December 27th.

(more…)

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Bat Knowledge Shared at the Vatican

 

Bat Knowledge Shared at the Vatican

Merlin was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home,” at the Vatican, on November 2. The meeting was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab of University of California, Berkeley and REIL, an interdisciplinary experts group.  The purpose was to extend the influence of this historic document promoting care of the environment. Thirty leaders from various fields were invited, including law, policy, finance, science, and religion.  The goal was to collaborate in promoting care of nature as essential to human wellbeing.  Merlin presented his experiences documenting values of protecting even such traditionally unpopular animals as bats, and benefited from lively discussions.

 

Roundtable participants at the Vatican
Roundtable participants at the Vatican

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Algerian Bat Group Workshop Success

Les Chauves Souris D’algerie, ALGERIAN BAT GROUP recently held a bat workshop in Algeria, hosted by Professor Mourad Ahmim of the University of Bejaia. The workshop focused on the importance of bats and their impact on the national economy.

Merlin was asked to provide this 8-minute video introduction for workshop participants, giving them an overview of bat values and exhorting them to protect the bats of Algeria.

 

The workshop resulted in the first protection of a cave in Aokas, Algeria. The Cave of Aokas is now officially protected by a communal decree in memory of a former leader in European bat conservation, and much valued friend of Merlin’s, the late Professor Jiri Gaisler who discovered the cave and first studied its bats.

(more…)

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The Power of Bat Photos

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Stellaluna was brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated by one of our first Bat Fans, Janell Cannon. It’s the story of a baby fruit bat who gets separated from its mother. Since publication in 1993 this book has been translated into 30 languages. Stellaluna is a classic that significantly helped to endear kids, big and small, to if not love bats, at least appreciate them better, much the same as Merlin’s photographs.

 

In fact, Janell credits Merlin’s 1986 National Geographic article “Gentle Flyers of the African Night,” about epauletted fruit bats, for inspiring Stellaluna.

Janell recently emailed Merlin to share one of her community presentations, explaining how much she appreciated free use of his website photos. We love, love, love this kind of feedback! It Illustrates one of the many ways our website photos are making a difference for bats. As Bat Fan numbers grow, we’re happy to see the wide variety of creative uses individuals and institutions are making of our website gallery. Please share with us how you’re using our photos in your corner of the world to make it better for bats and people. (more…)

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BAT FLASH! Countering Irresponsible Speculation that Threatens both Bats and Public Health

What’s going on?
The October 26, 2016 issue of ScienceDaily published an especially misleading story that poses a direct threat to both bats and public health. In this story, a fragment of an influenza A-like virus was discovered in a Latin American fruit-eating bat. The initial conclusion was that it posed “little, if any, pandemic threat to humans.”

A little yellow-shouldered bat (Sturnira lilium), an invaluable seed disperser, now prematurely speculated to be dangerous.
A little yellow-shouldered bat (Sturnira lilium), an invaluable seed disperser, now prematurely speculated to be dangerous.

A team of lab scientists then used this new influenza-like material to bio-engineer a new influenza virus. To do this, they analyzed cells from over 30 different viral species for their capacity to become hosts. Then the cell that was most susceptible to the engineered virus was tested and found capable of infecting a variety of cells, including those of humans.

The resulting publication ends with this self-serving justification. “Bats are natural hosts for several highly pathogenic viruses. In the past, Ebola and rabies virus were repeatedly transmitted from bats to humans and caused deadly diseases. The new observation that human cells can be infected with bat influenza A-like viruses is a hint that these viruses could also potentially be transmitted to humans. Although there is no evidence yet for such transmissions, the new findings are a wake-up call for more research.”

The claim that Ebola has been repeatedly transmitted from bats to humans is false, completely lacking in scientific documentation, and the authors fail to admit that bat-transmitted rabies is one of our planet’s rarest human disease threats. It’s time to focus on real threats, like cancer and obesity.

What to do.

Please contact their editorial department and let them know that you strongly disapprove of their story which needlessly threatens bats and diverts public health dollars from far greater threats. Even if you simply state your strong dislike of the misleading story, with no further explanation, you can have major impact. Editors, are hired and fired based on readership trends. They don’t dare offend large numbers of readers.

What are friends for?

Reinforcement. So use them. Talk about it. Tweet about it. Tell all your pals. The bigger our voice, the bigger our muscle!

Until next time, Bat Fan…. Thanks for being there!

 

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