Education is Key to Flying Fox Survival

Merlin Tuttle
10/25/17

In response to the Mongabay article of August 29 titled, “Bats and viruses: Beating back a bad reputation,” Dr. Sheema Abdul Aziz, commented as follows on September 5:

Sheema in a durian tree.

“Actually this article neglected to mention another huge problem caused by these negative representations of bats. It’s not just about deliberate human killings of bats – even where bats are not being killed by people, the repercussions of this negative reputation are still damaging in indirect ways because it affects efforts and funding for research and conservation. I am currently the only person working on the conservation ecology of Pteropus in Malaysia, where there has been such a disproportionate amount of attention, effort, and money put into researching ONLY the virology and public health aspects of these bats. Hardly anyone is interested in looking at the conservation ecology aspect; never mind that these bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers, and are severely threatened by hunting – all topics which desperately require more attention and work. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be constantly approached by other researchers who are only interested in collaborating on virology, or to be told that I can only get funding if I include a disease and public health aspect in my project. Ultimately these bats will go extinct if people – including researchers and funders – are simply too focused on worrying about whether we’re going to catch diseases from them, instead of trying to mitigate the threats that we humans present to them. This kind of attitude is very, very damaging to bat conservation.”

Dr. Aziz explaining flying fox pollination to Mak Long, owner of the durian orcharad where her Ph.D. rhesis research was conducted. MTBC photos are playing a vital role in educating islanders to a better appreciation of flying foxes.
Sheema using a light microscope to look for pollen grains in flying fox droppings.

Dr. Aziz is one of a very few researchers in her part of the world dedicated to helping people understand the economic and ecological importance of conserving flying foxes. Her research titled, “Pollination by the locally endangered island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) enhances fruit production of the economically important durian (Durio zibethinus),” recently appeared in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

In her paper, she provides information critical to convincing islanders to protect flying foxes, namely that they are playing a key role as pollinators of one of Southeast Asia’s most valued crops, not causing damage as previously believed. She used camera and video traps to document that island flying foxes (Pteropus hyomelanus) do not damage durian flowersas even some researchers had suspected. Video traps clearly absolved the bats. Island flying foxes and cave nectar bats (Eonycteris spelaea) are major pollinators. The damage was caused by plantain squirrels (Callosciurus notatus) who often ate immature flowers.

 

Aziz also notes that flying foxes sometimes can become a nuisance when roosting too near people, causing both noise and odor problems. She hopes to find a way to harmlessly convince these bats to move farther away, so they will be more welcome. There is an urgent need for education to minimize negative biases while solving legitimate nuisances. Aziz emphasizes the need to find solutions to real problems instead of needlessly scaring people about rare threats.

Large flying foxes (Pteropus vampyrus) have wingspans of nearly six feet, the largest of any bat. They are widespread in Southeast Asia, Borneo and the Philippines, but are in alarming decline due to over-harvesting for human food, and are often needlessly killed when entering orchards.

She reports, “I have been using your [Merlin Tuttle’s] photos, especially the amazing shots of P. vampyrus, in all the presentations I give. It’s enormously helpful because the only shots I have of that species are the poor dead ones shot by a hunter, and it’s not a very nice picture at all. I think it would be almost impossible for me to get a good photo of P. vampyrus here in Malaysia! Your close-up shots of Pteropus pollinating and feeding on fruit are also particularly useful for illustrating bat ecosystem services – I used these in a public talk I gave, at an event organized by the Malaysian Heritage and History Club, which was very well received. And of course, I also used your photos in the awareness video! I now use them anytime I want to talk about bat ecosystem services.”

An island flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus), the focus of Dr. Azizes’ primary research.

Aziz is devoting her career to helping people solve problems while benefiting from the essential contributions of flying foxes. If bats are to survive in sufficient numbers to fulfil their critical environmental and ecological roles, Aziz, and many more like her will need all the help they can get. Just saving a few endangered remnants is not enough!

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“Bat Girl” Alexis Hitting It Big for Bats

10/25/17

Alexis Valentine won the 2nd Place award at the 14th Annual Jr. Foresters Science/Research Competition in Moscow, Russia.

We first met Alexis Valentine and her mother Amy, when Merlin spoke at an annual Discover Life in America conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 2014. We’ve kept in touch ever since, encouraging her research and competition in local and regional science fairs. We were thrilled to hear that she had been awarded a full scholarship to represent the U.S. at the 14th Annual Jr. Foresters Science/Research Competition in Moscow, Russia. Forty-five participants from 28 countries and five continents presented projects, September 2-10 and Alexis won second place out of 40 awards. At 15, she was the youngest competitor to win an award, and also was the highest ranking American contestant in the competition’s history.

Ian Agranat, Alexis Valentine and Merlin Tuttle at the Wildlife Acoustics display.

Last week, she did a fine job of presenting her research on the impact of white-nose syndrome on bats in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the annual teacher’s workshop held in conjunction with the NASBR 47th Annual Symposium on Bat Research in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Knowing Alexis had long dreamed of owning her own ultrasonic bat detectors for her research and public presentations, Merlin took the opportunity to introduce her to Ian Agranat, President of Wildlife Acoustics, the worlds’ largest producer of wildlife monitoring devices. Their Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro bat detector is one on Merlin’s favorite tools for introducing the public to bats, and he was delighted when Ian made Alexis’ long-time dream of owning her own equipment come true through his generous gifts which covered all her needs.

 

Keep it up, BatGirl, we’re proud of you!

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New Bat House Research Project

Loss of natural homes in caves and old-growth forests is one of the greatest causes of bat decline worldwide. Unfortunately, many former roosts can never be replaced, leaving an increasingly urgent need for alternative shelter. Wildlife Biologist, Steve Barlow, was one of the first to test the suitability of extra large designs, and he has been experimenting for nearly 20 years. Recently he has supplied his Big Bat House design to nature centers, city parks, wildlife refuges, farmers and private landowners.

Last October, Merlin met with Steve and they agreed to collaborate in developing a new, design that they hope will be even more attractive to bats. Their research proposal was generously funded by MTBC members, Joe and Sharon Goldston, with additional help from Steve. In early April Merlin spent two days with Steve and his construction crew in Kansas brainstorming anticipated improvements.

The result is a new modular design that is much less costly to build and lighter in weight. We also anticipate it’s being even more attractive to bats. It can be mounted on just two instead of four poles, and when a first module fills, more can be added, each one housing up to 4,000 bats. Based on past experience it is quite likely that, at some locations tens of thousands can be attracted, as ability to expand will be unlimited.

In early May, the first modules were installed on three farms in Florida, under Steve’s supervision. Test sites were each surrounded by a different kind of agricultural use in anticipation of a second research phase to investigate the bats’ impact on crop pests. Assuming bat acceptance, this should be a big step.

Two additional modules of the same design will be shipped for testing in Panama, hopefully to be installed by July. The first will be in a lowland rice-growing area, the second in a mountainous nature reserve. We believe all five sites have excellent potential to attract colonies in their first year, but we’ll have to be patient! Merlin’s first extra large roost, built at the University of Florida in Gainesville, took three years to attract bats. However, the colony rapidly grew to roughly 250,000!

 

 

 

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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, (more…)

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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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NASBR 2016 Keynote Message from Merlin Tuttle

Merlin’s Keynote Message at the 46th Annual Symposium of the North American Society for Bat Research

By Merlin Tuttle
10/13/16

Merlin provided perspective on bat conservation progress in America over the 46 years since annual meetings of North American bat researchers began  in 1970. At that time most Americans had been led to believe that bats were little more than disease carrying, mostly rabid vermin, and frightened citizens were spending tens of millions of dollars annually hiring pest control companies to poison bats in buildings.

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 assoiation 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. Emergences
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 these bats for human food. Despite large numbers having been eaten, and having lived in close association with humans throughout recorded history, they have caused no documented disease outbreaks. The remarkable safety record of bats worldwide casts grave doubt on recent speculation of their being dangerous carriers of deadly diseases.

Our early research objectives included studies documenting that scare campaigns by those profiting from human fear were themselves posing the most serious threats to public health. We put fear in perspective, showing that bats, in fact, have one of our planet’s finest records of living safely with people, documented numerous values of bats, gradually overcame historic misperceptions and gained protection for thousands of critical bat roosting habitats. As interest and appreciation of bats increased our group grew from 42 to over 400 participants, and we can now take great pride in many accomplishments.

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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.

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Field Guide to Amazonian Bats

The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats by Adria López-Baucells, Ricardo Rocha, Paulo Bobrowiec, Enrico Bernard, Jorge Palmeirim and Christoph Meyer is a giant step forward for the world’s most diverse bat assemblage. As one who has spent years identifying and photographing Amazonian bats, I’m exceedingly well impressed with all aspects of this publication, not just its clear and well-illustrated keys, but also with the quality and completeness of photos and the strong conservation orientation. I’m proud to have contributed in a small way.
-Merlin Tuttle

Please download and enjoy The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats!

Pictured is a spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum), one of the many unique Amazonian bats. This is the largest New World bat, with a wingspan of nearly three feet. It is a carnivore that feeds on a wide variety of small vertebrates, including rats, birds and small oppossums. Mates appear to take turns hunting for food versus baby-sitting. They live in large, hollow trees.

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Merlin’s response to Chicago story about bats and rabies

Merlin’s response to Chicago story about bats and rabies
By Merlin Tuttle
6/16/16
This is an outrageously distorted story, obviously planted by those who profit most from public fear. Rabies transmission from bats to humans is extremely rare (just 1.5 Americans per year) and normally involves a bite that is detected at the time. However some people fail to seek medical advice and post-exposure vaccination, and thus are at risk of contracting rabies. When we put risks in perspective, our own beloved dogs kill approximately 20 times more Americans annually than die of rabies from bats.
                                                                                                                                                                    We’ve learned to live reasonably safely with dogs. It’s even easier to live safely with bats. Just don’t attempt to handle them, and the odds of being harmed by one are exceedingly remote. If indeed one assumes that 8 of 10 Chicago homes harbor bats as claimed, that is proof in itself that bats make safe neighbors. If they are anywhere nearly as dangerous as implied, then rabies should be vastly more common in Chicagoans.

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