Slate Magazine Goes to Bat for Bats

Countering a huge, international disease scare campaign against bats is extremely challenging, but thanks to the loyal support of our uniquely dedicated members the truth is being heard, as seen in this week’s issue of Slate magazine. We are unfortunately still the only conservation organization brave enough to counter this international campaign backed by hundreds of millions of dollars. Promoters of fear are increasingly portraying themselves as bat conservationists attempting to help bats. They say bats are valuable and shouldn’t be killed, but their grossly exaggerated disease warnings remain deadly, no less than back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s when nearly everyone in America was led to believe that most bats were rabid. The impact on conservation efforts was devastating. States with the most indefensibly large rabies budgets led the propaganda, aided by unscrupulous pest control companies. However, states where health departments intensely publicized bats as dangerous achieved no reduction in human rabies compared to states that simply advised evaluation of all animal bites.

Too few of us today remember that, after Rachael Carson got DDT outlawed for general use in America, our CDC insisted on obtaining a special exemption so it could continue to use DDT to kill bats in buildings. Even now, our CDC has a policy that Canada and the State of Oregon have rejected, based on independent scientific evaluation.

A large proportion of remaining bats have had to take refuge in buildings​, having lost their traditional roosts in caves and old growth forests​. Yet I’m seeing a gradual return to the days of big bat business for exterminators. Now, they try to look like conservationists by including mention of how beneficial bats are and ​advising that they should not be killed while simultaneously attempting to scare people into hiring their eviction services, which less conspicuously still kills bats. With all the devastation already wrought by WNS in the U.S., the timing for intolerance couldn’t be worse.

That’s why we urge you to compliment Slate on setting the record straight. Leave a comment on the article, call (212) 445-5330 or email slateoffice@slate.com.

 

 

 

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Response to Inappropriate Coverage of Bats and Ebola in Smithsonian Publication

Response to Smithsonian story, “Can Saving Animals Prevent the Next Deadly Pandemic?”
Merlin Tuttle
5/9/17

 

Lorraine Boissoneault’s story, Can Saving Animals Prevent the Next Deadly Pandemic?, is clearly well intended. However, when it comes to fruit bats and Ebola it is based on outdated speculation that threatens serious harm to a group of mammals that is already in alarming decline. For a summary of current knowledge of bats versus Ebola and other rare, but so-called emerging diseases, and their speculated association with bats, I refer you to my article in the current edition of Issues in Science and Technology, titled “Give Bats a Break.”

Diseases that are millions of years old, but that are just now being discovered due to their rarity, are being referred to as “emerging” as an apparent public relations ploy to make them sound more dangerous. And speculating associations with bats makes them even more scary, since many people already fear bats. This has proven unprecedentedly effective in gaining hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to support so-called virus hunters, who must continue speculating about potentially dire threats from bat diseases to keep their grants flowing.

Bats historically have one of the world’s finest records of living safely with humans, first in caves and thatched huts, then in log cabins.

Hundreds of thousands of Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) beginning their evening departure from a city park in Ivory Coast, Africa. Cities often provide the only homes safe from commercial hunters who sell them for people to eat. Despite such large numbers having lived in close association with humans throughout recorded history, they have not caused disease outbreaks. Their remarkable safety record casts grave doubt on recent speculation of their being dangerous carriers of disease.

Even now, millions of bats safely share cities with us, as here in Austin, Texas. Nor is there any credible evidence of epidemics among the millions of humans who eat bats. Finally, neither I nor hundreds of other bat researchers have contracted an “emerging disease” from a bat, despite our very close association. I for example, have spent more than 55 years studying and handling hundreds of species of bats worldwide, often surrounded by millions at a time in caves, and I remain healthy. Like veterinarians, I am vaccinated against rabies, because I am sometimes bitten in self-defense by animals I handle. Yet I have never been protected against any of the diseases about which we are now being warned.

The current campaign to associate bats with scary diseases often gets large numbers of bats killed no matter what else is said, and large colonies are extremely vulnerable.

To put risk in perspective, in the past 20 years, SARS, Hendra, Nipa, Marburg, Ebola and MERS combined have accounted for fewer than 20,000 human deaths worldwide. Clearly, “emerging diseases” account for no more than a minuscule amount of human mortality, most of which is far easier to prevent. Thus the currently popular focus is a huge misappropriation of limited public health resources that harms both bats and humans.

 

Merlin’s response has been posted in the comment section of the article as well as emailed via the Smithsonian contact page. You are invited to do the same.

 

Even in cities like Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) are intensely hunted by teenage boys who earn a good income selling them for people to eat. Though over hunting poses a threat to these bats’ survival, there is no evidence that the people who eat them contract diseases as a result. This casts serious doubt on claims that bats are dangerous sources of disease.

 

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New Publication in Defense of Bats

Read Merlin’s article, Give Bats a Break, in the Spring 2017 edition of Issues in Science and Technology. This report is based on Merlin’s review of thousands of scientific papers and popular media stories. And it is the first to expose how sensational speculation is fostering bad science in a self-perpetuating cycle of misdirected public health funding that threatens the future of bats. This is an issue that we cannot ignore.

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Praise for Speaking Up for Neglected Bats – BAT FLASH

Praise for Speaking Up for Neglected Bats
By Merlin Tuttle
3/17/17

Many thanks to Anthropocene for their timely alert, Wind energy is tough on bats—but it doesn’t have to be that way, by Brandon Keim in their March 15, 2017 issue.

Over the past decade a growing number of peer-reviewed research publications have reported likely-to-be-unsustainable bat kills at wind turbines, also reporting that kills could be reduced by 44-90% by slightly delaying turbine cut-in speeds (the wind speeds at which turbines are activated to begin rotating to produce energy) during the bats’ fall migration.

Merlin Tuttle and Jessica Kern examine bats killed by wind turbines in West Virginia, where Merlin led early efforts to minimize bat kills.

The best available calculations indicate that by implementing these changes, annual power output would be reduced by less than 1%. Yet only a few companies have acted on even these economically feasible recommendations, despite repeated warnings that whole species could be threatened with extinction without prompt action. Keim raises the obvious question, “how people already know so much about solving the problem, yet do so little.” The answer seems obvious—Too many people still don’t know, and too many of us who do have remained silent for too long.

Please take a moment to thank author, Brandon Keim, and the editorial staff at Anthropocene for reminding readers that alarming and growing numbers of ecologically essential bats are being killed needlessly by carelessly operated wind turbines.

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    • Send a Contact Form to Anthropocene Magazine. Be sure to include the article, author and editors by name when you thank them for their much needed reporting on bats.
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A hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) in Texas. These bats are long-distance migrators, some traveling all the way from Canada to Mexico and back each fall and spring. Large numbers are now being killed needlessly by careless production of wind energy.

 

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Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats

Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats
By Merlin Tuttle
3/16/17

Cal Butchkoski removing a big brown bat from a mist net during a Pennsylvania workshop.

Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats, edited by C.M. Butchkoski, D.M. Reeder, G.G. Turner, and H.P. Whidden. 2017, is a publication of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. Twenty-eight contributors cover a wide variety of conservation-relevant topics. It summarizes the key ecological and economic roles of bats and traces the history of bat research and conservation efforts in Pennsylvania, which has one of America’s finest records of conserving bats.

A Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement is reported to have gained beneficial results. However, the environmental review process does not cover most of the state’s species. And at least one of the state’s largest companies has refused to participate. The potentially serious, yet inadequately documented wind energy impacts on bats remain as unresolved threats. (more…)

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BAT FLASH! Sensational NPR Story Threatens Bats

Sensational National Public Radio Story Threatens Bats
By Merlin Tuttle
2/14/17

 

Unfortunately, the normally objective and reliable NPR, in its broadcast interview titled, Why Killer Viruses Are On The Rise, has joined in spreading irresponsibly sensational fear of bats. The interview with a “virus hunter” is set in a Bornean rainforest. In the preamble, the announcer notes that, “It’s where deadly viruses hide out, waiting their chance to leap into a person and then spread around the world.”

 

At a time when bats and rainforests are both in alarming decline, and in desperate need of protection, the program goes on to portray them in the scariest of terms. The reporter notes that rainforests “have lots of crazy animals” that “have lots of crazy viruses” and explains that what the virus hunter “really wants is to catch a bat.”

When the first bat is caught it is described as cute, but the reporter quickly points out that, “bats are arguably one of the most dangerous animals in the world. They triggered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the pandemic of killer pneumonia back in 2003, that was called SARS, and they’re behind one of the viruses scientists think could cause the next big one, Nipah.” This is unproven speculation reported as fact. But it gets even worse.

(more…)

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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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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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