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!
“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!
MTBC’s Teresa Nichta’s final story in this series of her first field trip with Merlin. Enjoy!
For me, a much anticipated highlight of my Trinidad adventure was my first trip into a major bat cave. Tamana Cave shelters tens of thousands of bats including half a dozen species of an intriguing variety. But first, you have to get there! It’s a long, windy drive to the base of the “hill.” Once you can drive no further it’s time to begin the steep ascent to the top of Tamana Hill… (more…)
Our digital and social media coordinator, Teresa Nichta, is learning firsthand the challenges of bat photography, whether in the studio or in the wild. This is her experience in her words.
I already knew I would love the rain forest; it was so massive yet I felt right at home.
Documenting where bats live was a major objective of this trip, and that was just what we did! Of course, I’d seen Merlin’s photos and learned about what we were looking for but seeing bats at home in the forest in person was even more enthralling than I had imagined. Bats are nearly everywhere but they’re seldom seen because they hide so well.(more…)
In our previous blog, Teresa told us what it was like to follow Merlin into a hollow tree in the rain forest. Now she tells us what it was like netting and radio-tracking bats, and what happened to the bats once we caught them.
My next adventure with bats began when I accompanied Merlin and the Trinibats teams netting and radio-tracking rare bats to see where they lived. It was a lot of work packing and carrying all the necessary equipment to the middle of the rain forest, then keeping vigilant watch over the virtually transparent nets for hours on end. This was my first experience with bat netting and I kept thinking to myself, “These bat people are hardcore!” It’s tough work!
Have you ever squeezed into a hollow tree in the rain forest? Me neither. But MTBC’s digital/social media coordinator, Teresa Nichta, followed Merlin into just such a tree during our recent field work in Trinidad searching for… hey, let’s hear the story from Teresa and make sure you watch the video at the end!
“Great, you’re finally here! Come on, we’re going hunting for katydids,” Merlin says. It’s nearly 11pm and I drop my bags, strap on my headlight and spray bug repellent on the brand new boots I’d been wearing since I boarded the plane in Texas for Trinidad.
Thanks to Trinibat volunteers, 43 of Trinidad’s 68 bat species were captured, documented and released over the past two weeks. Little known species like Spectral (Vampirum spectrum) and Striped hairy-nosed (Mimon crenulatum) bats were tracked back to their unique roosts, providing new information essential to their conservation. (more…)
We are in Trinidad working with Trinibats, co-founded by Trinidad-born naturalist, Geoffrey Gomes, who first contacted Merlin in 2009 for advice on how to convince his government to remove bats from its vermin list. Inspired with new insights, Geoffrey has since become a self-taught, enthusiastic bat man. He is now the leading expert on bats of Trinidad and has recently published a book, The Bats of Trinidad and Tobago, co-authored by talented bat artist, Fiona Reid. According to Merlin, it is one of the finest books on bats yet written. (more…)
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.