MTBC’s Bat Adventures in Panama Week 1 group started out from our base camp for an energetic hike to the top of the mountain ridge. Some did it in 3.5 hours, some 6.5 hours, and everything in between. My GPS said I hiked 19,190 steps (about 10 miles!) and burned 2,701 calories. Some will go back at night to net for bats in this cloud forest where they hope to find different species than the ones found at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve banana plants, and along the lower river forest.
It’s the dry season, but there have been just enough showers to keep things cool!
Merlin and Daniel Hargreaves, co-founder of Trinibats, have teamed up to co-lead two weeks of bat workshops at the Cocobolo Nature Reserve in Panama. The reserve is over 1,000 acres located about halfway between the Pacific and the Caribbean on the narrow Isthmus of Panama, about 35 miles wide.
Our days have basically gone according to the itinerary:
Day 1. Our group had a rendezvous at our hotel Riande Aeropuerto in Panama City the first night. Some of us purchased rubber boots at Novey or the Discovery Center, then we met at the poolside bar for drinks and dinner.
Day 2. The next morning we departed by minibus to Las Margaritas where we transferred to a few 4WD vehicles via primitive roads, fording several rivers to our destination in the heart of the tropical rainforest. Cocobolo Nature Reserve is located near Las Zahinas village in Chepo District, Panama, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Panama City.
Upon arrival at Cocobolo, we found our individual tents, with air mattresses, underneath thatched cottages raised from the ground called “ranchitos”. The field station has two bathrooms with composting toilets (home to resident bats!), and cold showers. The onsite kitchen provides our meals and the main hall is our regular meeting and eating place. We have access to onsite wifi and solar panels enabling us to keep our equipment charged.
In the afternoon we prepared for the bat survey work, organized teams, equipment, and netting sites.
Day 3. After a short presentation by Michael Roy, the Founder of Cocobola, we all went on a two-hour hike, searching for new netting sites. In the evening we split into teams so that everybody has the opportunity to do netting, radio tracking, photography and processing.
Wifi is slow, so many more pics to come of all the fun we’re having!
This powerful article in Southeast Asia Globe, by Claire Baker-Munton, on the value of artificial bat roosts in Southeast Asia deserves much praise. With the help of Merlin’s photos, this article clearly promotes a better understanding of bats and their values. At a time when so many media headlines are attempting to grab readership by speculating potential linkage of bats to scary diseases, positive stories like this are crucial. In reality, as Claire points out, Cambodians have found bats to be highly valued neighbors.
Choose any or all means of contact to reach out with your praise and encouragement on behalf of bats.
Wildlife and Wind Farms: Conflicts and Solutions Book Review by Merlin Tuttle 1/8/18
Wildlife and Wind Farms, Conflicts and Solutions, Volume 2, provides a summary of current conflicts and solutions involving the rapid growth of wind farms and their impacts on wildlife. Chapters by leading experts cover topics from turbine siting and mortality monitoring to, statistical evaluations and mitigation.
This is the second of two volumes, both edited by M.R. Perrow. They are thorough and authoritative, an important resource for professionals concerned with wind energy impacts on wildlife. Unfortunately, this is a complex subject, and industry has been slow to adopt many of the remedies reported. Issues for birds and bats differ significantly and typically require different solutions. This review emphasizes those involving bats.
Early investigations often failed to account for searcher detectability or scavenger removal rates when calculating wildlife fatalities at wind farms. Such problems were exacerbated by long intervals between searches, during which most corpses were removed by scavengers or arthropods. Small corpses can virtually disappear to human view in even a few inches of vegetation, and most of a night’s kill can be removed by scavengers within hours, depending on local circumstances. Trained dogs have performed far better than humans in searching for kills, but few are used. Fatality detection is complicated and often debated.
The impact of scavenger removal is difficult to accurately document. Depending on local scavenger faunas, removal rates can vary greatly. Scavengers may also take time to discover a new food source, causing removal rates to change from week to week or year to year.
Especially in the case of bats, no one knows how many may be permanently injured without detection. It is generally agreed that, early morning searches, are best for detecting bat fatalities prior to scavenger removal, but how often should these searches be conducted, and how can they avoid biases? Calculations of scavenger removal rates can be affected in many ways. What if scavengers learn to follow human scent trails to birds or bats intentionally placed as surrogates to measure scavenger removal? Also, how can we be sure that surrogate corpses are as attractive as fresh kills? Most surrogates are frozen prior to use. By becoming less attractive with age, scavenger removal could be significantly underestimated.
Statistical adjustments, predictive models, and invaluable insights to the most apparent biases are provided in this publication. However, some are extremely difficult to document. It is still impossible to accurately predict population-level impacts. Even if all other variables were accurately measured, knowledge of actual population size of impacted species rarely, if ever exists. As noted, estimates often fall short of reality, and losses may already be unsustainable in many cases.
The chapter on mitigating bat collisions is thorough and enlightening. It reports the apparent futility of predicting bat risks based on pre-construction sampling because turbines appear to attract bats.
Operational mitigation strategies that could significantly reduce bat mortality were reported as early as 2011. By slightly raising turbine cut-in speeds (the wind speeds at which turbines are permitted to spin for power production) above those set by manufacturers, bat mortality reductions of 50 to 93% are documented in this publication. By 2013, a German study of multiple sites, in different geographic regions, reported fatality reduction of 83% by including algorithms, such as season, time, and temperature.
Due to non-disclosure by power companies, few studies have reported amounts of power lost through such mitigation, but available evidence suggests less than 1%. Unfortunately, few companies, especially outside of Europe, have been willing to incorporate even these simple operational changes.
The possible use of acoustic deterrents has long been considered as a means of reducing bat mortality. However, the high frequency signals required for bats attenuate rapidly in air, making them ineffective in covering the large areas required to protect bats at wind turbines. By strategic placement of multiple transmitters on turbines, one study reduced mortality by 64%, but no ultrasonic deterrents are yet available for affordable commercial use. Changing turbine color to reduce attractiveness to insect prey, and use of electromagnetic signals have been proposed but appear unlikely to prove adequate.
Threshold numbers of bat fatalities, allowed prior to required mitigation, are frequently negotiated as part of the permitting process. However, in my experience in North America they are commonly exceeded with minimal or no remedial action taken.
Protection of key habitat, such as hibernation caves, may be useful for endangered species like Indiana myotis (Myotis sodalis), that seldom have been killed by turbines, but this is ineffective for migratory tree-dwelling species such as hoary (Lasiurus cinereus) and red (L. borealis) bats. Despite the absence of population estimates, trends can be regionally monitored at diverse locations not associated with wind farms. Mitigation planning should support systematic, standardized monitoring for such trends. These should be considered in future planning.
In reviewing current policies, I see a need for far more attention being paid to frequent fatalities of originally abundant species, rather than focusing almost exclusively on only occasionally killed endangered species. We cannot afford to ignore loss of still abundant bats like the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), that play key ecological roles, not to mention their invaluable benefits to agriculture. This species already faces thousands of turbines, and is one of the most vulnerable. Yet, there is no reliable long-term monitoring, either of fatality or population trends.
Major advances in methodology for reducing threats to bats are reported in this publication. Yet, as one of the pioneers in the search for solutions, I’m deeply disappointed to see how little implementation has occurred thus far. Scientists have made important discoveries. Nevertheless, already proven methods for mortality reduction far too often have been ignored by regulators and industry. Standardized regulations are urgently needed at national and international levels.
The current North American goal of reducing bat fatalities by 50% is inadequate. Without limiting the number of turbines that can be permitted, such goals offer unrealistic solutions, even if attained.
Though some companies should be applauded for their special efforts, there are few incentives for investing in wildlife. Many of the largest companies still ruthlessly ignore wildlife. However, by providing token financial support for solution-finding research, they lull an environmentally concerned public into complacency.
In my opinion, far more progress could be made if a fair-minded rating system were organized collaboratively by concerned industry and environmental representatives. Companies could be ranked according to their wildlife policies (i.e. cooperation in solution finding and the extent to which existing mitigation knowledge is implemented). They needn’t be perfect to rate higher than unconcerned competitors. Such information could be shared with green energy investment advisors, providing potentially strong incentives.
While the public continues to be pummeled with scary claims of dire threats of disease from bats, Merlin has been rallying crucial leadership collaboration from within the international research community. In September, he provided an hour lecture, followed by an enthusiastic hour-long discussion, for virologists and epidemiologists at Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro. And several days later he provided the keynote address for a joint annual meeting of Brazil’s Bat and Mammal Societies, with special attention to helping conservation-minded students.
In November, Merlin presented the inaugural address for a joint meeting of the Biology and Ecology Societies of Chile. A key concern there involved how to prevent bat killing due to irresponsible warnings of disease. Amazingly, even in a country where only one person in all history had died of a bat disease (rabies), fear of bats due to exaggerated media stories reportedly is posing a serious threat to conservation progress. Concerned attendees at the conference were delighted to learn of our disease resources and other information and photos available for their use. They were also most appreciative for advice on expanding threats from wind energy and pesticides. Merlin additionally agreed to provide photos for the bat section of a new book on Chilean mammals.
“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 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 flowers, as 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
I wholeheartedly applaud Atlantic Monthly’s defense of bats at a time when so many other publications are spreading grossly exaggerated stories attempting to link bats to some of the world’s rarest but also scariest diseases. Bats have never needed help more, nor have we needed them more! As the one who persuaded the citizens of Austin to protect instead of eradicating its now world-famous colony, I’m proud to report that none of millions of tourists who come to enjoy their spectacular emergences has ever been harmed. By simply leaving bats alone (not attempting to handle them), we have exceedingly little to fear and much to gain. Our bats eat tons of crop and yard pests every summer night and attract millions of tourist dollars each year.
Thanks to people who increasingly understand and help bats, even those species most devastated by WNS are gradually beginning to recover. The only cure will come from improved protection and restoration of key bat habitats, especially their hibernation caves. It’s far too late, as well as impractical, to find a cure for WNS. Going forward, all resources should be devoted to recovery.
This summer saw the worst avalanche of grossly exaggerated disease speculation ever launched against bats. While seemingly countless publications world-wide needlessly frightened millions of readers, Mongabay journalist, John Cannon, investigated and bravely countered the tide in his article, “Bats and viruses: Beating back a bad reputation,” published August 29.
Mongabay is one of the world’s leading environmental websites. It reaches 28 million readers in nine languages annually, making its defense of bats especially helpful at a time when bats are facing so much scary misinformation. We’ve listed actions you can take to share your thanks at the end of this post.
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.