Rodrigo A. Medellín at Lake Nakuru, Kenya, in 2013

Rodrigo A. Medellín
at Lake Nakuru, Kenya, in 2013

Foreword by Rodrigo A. Medellín, Year of the Bat Ambassador

Bats are our allies and they need our help

The universe is expanding. The universe of people who defend and protect bats, that is! A major change in people’s perception of bats has happened over the past 40 years. Until the 1970’s, bats had an overwhelmingly bad reputation as evil, filthy, useless and harmful vampires. But then a change brought about by science and conservation professionals began to happen. Slowly at first, but increasingly gaining momentum and still happening, you can see that more and more people are joining the crusade to save bats.

I have been working at the University of Mexico since the 70’s studying and protecting bats, and every piece of evidence we uncover strengthens my commitment and certainty that bats have been unfairly treated and that they require of our help to continue providing the vital ecosystem services they perform for us. My work has shown that bats are crucial as agricultural pest controllers, seed dispersers, and pollinators. Furthermore, we have shown that bats are essential as indicators of ecosystem health in the tropics.

This is why I was so thrilled to hear that a couple of years ago, EUROBATS and CMS under the umbrella of UNEP had decided to launch a Year of the Bat Campaign to raise awareness and additional support for bats in the general public. The campaign reached out to children and adults, students and researchers, decision makers, conservationists, the media, private companies as well as public institutions worldwide. Hundreds of events, celebrations, exhibitions, workshops and projects were conducted around the world praising bats, their diversity, and their importance for human well-being and for ecosystem functioning. People learned about the threats that bats face, from intentional destruction of their roost and direct prosecution, to ill-conceived, misguided “cullings”. They learned about the fact that countries such as India and Trinidad and Tobago had declared bats to be vermin and about the unfortunate White Nose Syndrome infection which has killed over six million bats in North America alone over the past six years.

Migratory bats, as well as other species, require the support and participation of the general public in countries around the world. Migratory species are a shared wealth and need the commitment of governments and society to be able to continue providing the benefits they deliver. For example, my group has shown how the conservation of Mexican free-tailed bats in Mexico is essential for protecting cotton and corn from pests in the United States. And similarly, protection of these bats in the U.S. reciprocates the benefit in Mexican agricultural fields. These reciprocal spatial subsidies are likely to become a significant negotiating element for future international conservation treaties, including CMS.

As a result of the Year of the Bat Campaign UNEP/CMS has compiled the electronic publication Bats around the World to increase awareness and recruit the general public to protect bats and continue improving their image. This new interactive tool is very helpful and illustrative, and it encourages the reader to become involved in conservation initiatives. It is a growing piece of work that provides information about bats and how to become involved in conservation efforts. Bats around the World joins a growing array of websites and organizations that provide ever-increasing information and involvement opportunities.

As Ambassador of the YOB I welcome this initiative that no doubt will galvanize and synergize greater efforts to protect bats in every corner of our planet. It is time, it is important, it is fair, it is fun. Go ahead! Explore the world of bats!

Rodrigo A. Medellín
Instituto de Ecología, UNAM