Magazine article E Magazine

Learning to Love Bats

Magazine article E Magazine

Learning to Love Bats

Article excerpt

On summer nights at dusk in Austin, Texas, people gather like hobos under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Children run around while their parents sit on blankets. What's the attraction: an ongoing fireworks extravaganza? No, it's the nightly emergence of the largest urban bat colony in North America. People let out a collective "aaah" as some 1.5 million Mexican free-tails fly out like an unfurling black ribbon, heading for dinner in the farm fields and Hill Country of central Texas. Flying at up to 60 miles per hour, they'll cover 100 miles a night, returning to their roost before dawn. Each bat will consume up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects per night; the entire colony will eat 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects--saving farmers from using tons of pesticides.

In the 1980s, when the creatures first moved under the bridge, horrified citizens demanded that the colony be eradicated. But Bat Conservation International (BCI) launched a campaign that turned public attitudes around. Bats now get all the insects they can eat and Austinites get nearly mosquito-free backyard barbecues.

Bats around the world are benefiting from increased educational efforts. "Public awareness is much greater," says Jim Kennedy, BCI's assistant director of the North American Bat Conservation Partnership. "You don't have as many people believing those old fallacies--that bats are blind, always carry rabies or get in your hair."

But bats are still in trouble: Of the 45 North American species, more than half are endangered or threatened. …

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