News

Going to Bat for Bats

TFK chats with two experts about how you can help save bats

October 18, 2011

TFK interviewed Nina Fascione of Bat Conservation International (BCI) and Mollie Matteson of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to find out more about white-nose syndrome, the serious disease that is affecting bats. Find out what these experts have to say about the disease and what you can do to help bats.

TFK:

What do you do for your job at Bat Conservation International?

NINA FASCIONE:

I’m the Executive Director of BCI. I oversee all aspects of the organization, from supervising BCI’s 32 employees to working with staff members on important bat-conservation projects to making sure we have enough money to do our conservation work.

Nina Fascione is the executive director of Bat Conservation International.
ED ARNETT—BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL/BATCON.ORG
Nina Fascione is the executive director of Bat Conservation International.

TFK:

Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed more than a million bats in parts of Canada and the eastern and southern United States, and it is spreading west. How do you feel about the response to the problem?

FASCIONE:

White-nose syndrome is a brand new disease. It suddenly appeared five years ago. It took scientists a few years to figure out what was causing all these bat deaths. Now we know a lot more about white-nose syndrome and many government agencies, university scientists and bat-conservation professionals at organizations like BCI are working together to figure out how to stop this devastating disease or at least slow its spread. While the official number of bat deaths remains at “more than a million,” I believe the actual number of bats killed is far greater than that. I think it’s accurate to say that millions of bats have died from white-nose syndrome. It’s very hard to get accurate counts of bats.

TFK:

In May, the government started following a new plan to fight the disease. Do you think this plan will be successful in helping to save the bats from the deadly disease?

FASCIONE:

The national plan for white-nose syndrome is an important step toward saving bats from this disease. It establishes a framework for scientists from different government agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations to work together to study the disease and find ways to stop it. The plan was released during a national conference on white-nose syndrome that BCI helped organize, and there is already tremendous progress being made. However, the most important thing needed to help bats right now is federal funding for more research on white-nose syndrome. BCI is working hard to get funds from Congress to fight this disease.

TFK:

Bats eat mosquitoes and other insects that harm crops and carry disease. Some bats are also important pollinators in desert and tropical habitats. Why else is it important that we save the bats? Why will it be challenging to do this right now?

FASCIONE:

Bats provide an amazing amount of services to humans. Bats pollinate countless tropical plants and they are essential for regrowing cleared or damaged rainforests because they scatter the seeds of “pioneer plants” that begin the restoration process. The wild crops of important foods like bananas, peaches, avocados and cashews all exist because of bats. And a new study shows that insect-eating bats save farmers in the United States more than $3.5 billion a year in reduced pesticide use because they eat moths and other insects that destroy crops. But maybe the most important reason to protect bats is that we need to conserve wildlife species so future generations can appreciate the wonders of nature just as we can.

TFK:

What can kids can do to help save the bats?

FASCIONE:

Kids are excellent ambassadors for bats. Many kids like bats and understand how important they are. Kids can share this knowledge with parents, teachers and classmates to help spread the word about protecting bats. Write about bats for a school paper or even write a letter to your local newspaper explaining how important bats are. Kids can ask their parents to put up a bat house in the backyard or become members of Bat Conservation International. To learn more about bats, visit www.batcon.org.

TFK:

How would you describe your job as conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)?

MOLLIE MATTESON:

I help save endangered animals and plants, and the places they need to live.

Mollie Matteson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.
KEVIN CROSS
Mollie Matteson is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

TFK:

Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed more than a million bats. How do you feel about the response to the problem?

MATTESON:

The response was slow. It took people awhile to figure out what was going on, why the bats were dying, and how the disease was spreading. It was especially hard because no one had a plan for working together, helping each other, and sharing what they learned. And there was almost no money to help the scientists do studies on the bat disease.

TFK:

In May, the government started following a new plan to fight the disease. Do you think this plan will be successful in helping to save the bats from the deadly disease?

MATTESON:

The plan is going to be helpful, but the biologists need the government to give them more money to actually do the things it says in the plan.

TFK:

Bats eat mosquitoes and other insects that harm crops and carry disease. Some bats are also important pollinators in desert and tropical habitats. Why else is it important that we save the bats? Why will it be challenging to do this right now?

MATTESON:

It’s important to save bats because they are fascinating, cool animals, and we can learn a lot from them about things like echolocation [using sound to "see" in the dark]. Also, other cave animals depend on bats to provide them food. It sounds yucky, but some cave critters depend on bat poop as a source of food, and without it, they might not be able to survive. Saving bats will be tough because the disease is spreading fast and it is very deadly.

TFK:

What is the CBD doing to help save bats from white-nose syndrome?

MATTESON:

We are trying to get more money from Congress for research on white-nose syndrome. We are trying to get several bat species protected by the Endangered Species Act. And, we are trying to get the government to close its caves to people (but not bats) for now, so that people won’t spread the disease accidentally from cave to cave.

TFK:

What can kids can do to help save the bats?

MATTESON:

If there are bats living in your attic, or barn please leave them alone! If a grown-up you know thinks the bats should be removed, please ask the adult to call a bat-friendly wildlife control person who won't hurt the bats. Putting up bat boxes is also a good thing to do.


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