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.
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,
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!
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.
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.
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.
Choose any or all means of contact to reach out and send thanks in your own words.
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.
Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats By Merlin Tuttle
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…)
Sensational National Public Radio Story Threatens Bats By Merlin Tuttle
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.
Continuing, we learn that, “One reason why bats are so dangerous is they have this weird ability to carry a lot of deadly viruses, in their spit, their pee, their poop, and because they fly they can spread these viruses over huge distances. So when there are bats up in the sky there could be Ebola in that poop that lands on your shoulder.” Despite millions of dollars having been invested in attempts to prove bats to be the natural reservoir for Ebola, the latest evidence points elsewhere. Furthermore, there is no evidence that spit, pee, or poop falling on a human from a flying bat has ever transmitted a disease in world history.
I and hundreds of other bat researchers worldwide, have spent thousands of hours studying bats in all habitats where they live, sometimes surrounded by millions in caves, and not one of us has ever contracted one of the so-called emerging viruses that our government is now reportedly spending $200 million to find before they find us. Like veterinarians, we are vaccinated against rabies in case we’re occasionally bitten by an unfamiliar animal we’re handling. But that’s all we are protected against. The odds of harm for anyone who doesn’t attempt to handle bats is incalculably small.
The virus hunter reports having found 48 new viruses in the Bornean rainforest as though it’s a big deal. However, because only a tiny fraction of the world’s viruses have yet been discovered, new ones are easy to find anywhere, even on our own bodies. Because we only hear of the few viruses that are deadly, we tend to view them all as killers, though many may be essential to human well-being, even viruses that are related to dangerous ones.
We’re told that the virus hunter “loves bats.” He explains that what sounds like a rapidly growing epidemic of new killer viruses is our fault. We’re cutting the forests where they live, forcing them to live near our homes. But he also reports that they are even found in school yards where kids play. “If a kid gets too close he could pick up a new virus. You can see this all over the world.” In my experience, such claims are typically made by those who profit from public fear of bats, not by those who appreciate and wish to protect bats as essential contributors to human well-being.
The text version of the interview is only slightly less scary. It warns that, “Over the past century, the number of new infectious diseases cropping up each year has nearly quadrupled,” not mentioning that most of these are rare and simply over looked prior to the arrival of more sophisticated medical diagnoses.
Virus hunters reportedly want to “find the next pandemic virus before it finds us.” The print version does warn that bats “do a lot of good for the environment” and shouldn’t be killed. In fact, NPR finally admits that, “Some infectious disease scientists think creating a long list of viruses isn’t very helpful. They say money could be better spent on diseases we actually have now instead of trying to guess which ones might become a problem someday.”
Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis, points out that “We’re not even making vaccines for viruses that we know are threats, that are regularly killing people.” He voices an important question. “How are we going to convince people to invest money into a virus from a remote jungle for which we have no evidence that it has caused any human illness?” Perhaps this is the question that in its search for a sensational, listener-captivating story, NPR should have covered. Just why are we investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a search for new viruses in far off jungles instead of funding treatments for those that are already killing us at home?
TAKE ACTION ON BEHALF OF BATS!
Nothing threatens bats more than sensational scare stories, and this is one of the worst yet. If we truly care about bats we cannot afford to allow such stories to go unchallenged. Decades of experience demonstrate that people do kill what they fear. Help us protect bats by lending your voice and telling NPR that they’ve disappointed you by presenting speculation as exaggerated fact. Together we make a difference!
What To Do
Choose any or all means of contact to reach out:
Facebook: Share your thoughts in a status update and tag NPR, @NPR
What To Say
Editors jobs depend on readership; feedback is valuable and they pay attention when lots of people express their concern and care. Use your own words to tell them what you think. OR
Copy and Paste the following,
I am very disappointed to see a source I had trusted present speculation as greatly embellished fact. Bats are extremely valuable and I want to see stories about how they benefit the world and all of us humans, not this exaggerated scary stuff.
Below is Merlin’s personal response to the reporter of this story.
My wife and I regularly listen to NPR as an objective and reliable source of information. So as a bat researcher and conservationist, I especially looked forward to hearing your program, Why Killer Viruses Are On The Rise, which aired February 14th on All Things Considered. To put it mildly, we were seriously disappointed by the misleading and needlessly sensational content. Much of what was said was speculation turned into “fact.”
As one who has spent more than 50 years studying and conserving bats worldwide, handling hundreds of species, and having led months-long expeditions in remote jungle campsites, I am well aware that speculated hazards were vastly overstated. Bats certainly don’t rank among the world’s most dangerous animals. In fact while media headlines focused on the 14,000 West Africans killed by Ebola, more than twice that many people worldwide died from dog-transmitted rabies without mention. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence points away from bats as Ebola reservoirs.
Not surprisingly, those who do the most to create fear of bats are also the ones who profit most from public fear. Please don’t take my comments too personally. I am aware that you were likely victimized by sources you thought you could trust. Nevertheless, at a time when both bats and rainforests are in alarming decline, we need far greater emphasis on overcoming needless fear, combined with understanding the vital importance of saving both bats and rainforests. If ever you are interested, I’d be happy to help.
Update: Hopeful Progress at NPR
Merlin wants to thank all of you who contacted NPR regarding our shared concerns involving their recently sensational virus stories that threaten bat conservation progress. He was interviewed by Michaeleen Doucleff, of NPR, for nearly an hour yesterday, February 22, 2017. He explained bat values and why people needn’t fear bats if they simply don’t attempt to handle them. The interview will be edited down to a shorter version, hopefully one that will still calm needless fear. Assuming this to be the case, we hope our Bat Fan helpers will take time to thank her. Michaeleen hopes this new interview will air within the next two weeks.
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.
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 Australia, grey-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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.