The fact that bats are very beneficial for us, mankind, we know already. Or if you do not know it yet, it is very important that you learn about this benefit (keywords: mosquitoes, chocolate, tequila). But why do we need to protect bats? Why is there legal protection? And especially if there is a legal protection, why does bat protection require our personal contribution?

Bats are wild animals. And obviously, wild animals prefer wilderness, natural conditions: clean water, pristine forests, unlit caves not visited by tourists. In other words, bats prefer things the way Mother Nature created them. But humanity, using a lot of resources on its path towards development, significantly altered the natural environment, destroyed natural habitats, fragmented forests, polluted rivers and lakes, and has moved mountains from their usual place for mining purposes, and last, but not least, lit up caves, where there will be no more darkness.

Furthermore, to ensure the ever increasing energy and food necessities for the world’s population, man polluted the environment with all kinds of factories, mines and plants, blocked the flow of rivers with dams, and converted more and more natural areas into agricultural land. Agricultural areas would not pose a problem in themselves (for bats at least, there are some species that hunt even in such areas), but the frequent use of insecticides and pesticides poisoned insect populations. This equals to poisoning the food resource of a lot of bat species.

Of course, we need energy. We need food and building materials. But we must keep in mind that during the process of securing our wellbeing, we should avoid doing irreparable damage to the environment, and also avoid doing harm to those animals and plants that, in secret, make our lives better. An estimated one third of food consumed by humanity is obtained with the help of the pollen carriers: bees, birds and ….bats. It should be clear for everyone: we must protect bats!

Since the XXth century, European bat populations (especially those in Central Europe) have experiences a sudden and dramatic collapse, resulting in many cases on the disappearance of colonies of thousands of bats, and the reduction of the population size with nearly 100%. In the period of the 60-70’s, several bat species were threatened with complete extinction in Europe. These threats came as the result of changing land use and converting habitats (especially for agriculture), human intrusion into new habitats and implicitly, their fragmentation, but also because of using toxic materials (ex. based on DDT and lindane) in the treatment of the wooden elements of buildings. Colonies with thousands of bats were simply poisoned because the skin of bats came into direct contact with these toxins. The most affected bat species were those who frequently use buildings as roosts: horseshoe bats, mouse-eared bats, long-eared bats and pond bats.

Based on data from cave-dwelling hibernation colonies, from bat species that do not necessarily use buildings, researchers realized that the use of insecticides causes huge problems. As top predators, bats are the most exposed to pesticides and insecticides that accumulate in the body of insects they consume. But the decrease of the size of cave colonies can also be attributed to a significant increase of converting caves to mass tourism, and the creation of light and tourism infrastructure in cave galleries, which were previously inaccessible. Even bat researchers themselves contributed to the increased mortality among bats by ringing specimens during the most sensitive period of their life cycle, during winter hibernation.

The sharp drop, of sometimes 100%, in the size of bat colonies resulted from the simultaneous action of all these factors. This is because the life cycle of bats depends not only on caves, or buildings, or habitats, but on an ideal combination of all these elements. The drastic intervention in all these elements, and in the same time period, led to the disappearance of a large number of colonies.

From the threat factors of the past some are still acting in bat populations, such as intensive farming, the use of insecticides, and cave tourism. Habitat fragmentation and clearcuttings have increased, thus the continuing disappearance of suitable habitats accelerates. On top of these threats new factors have emerged.

Excessive artificial lighting in urban areas or in buildings affects bats during the formation of maternity colonies, exactly when the new generation of bats prepares to enter our world. Fortunately there are numerous studies and publications about methods which enabling the lighting of buildings, but preserve the normal biological rhythm of bats. A good study can be read here.

Another problem is wind farms. Of course, we need green energy more than ever in the history of mankind. But these investments must be carefully planned so as to avoid migration routes of bats and important feeding habitats. Otherwise, we get in a situation where hundreds of bats die each month due to collision with wind turbines, and that’s just in the United Kingdom.

To arrive quickly and safely to our favorite places in cities or nature, we obviously need roads and highways. But if we do not plan green corridors, some “crosswalks” for bats, then bats will not be able to reach safely their feeding habitats, or get back safely to their roosts. Heavy traffic infrastructure created without green corridors poses a serious threat not only to bats, but also other animals who move at great distances (ex. large mammals).

Over the past decades, many bat experts, countries and governmental agencies of these countries realized that bats need adequate protection. Protection to ensure good roosting conditions for colonies, protection from destruction or significant alteration of the environment of caves or other key roosts, protection of habitats where bats consume those enormous quantities of pest insects. Protection in order for us, humans to realize once and for all, that bats are part of our world, we need them and we must learn to coexist. And that legends concerning bats belong in the past.

Nowadays there are several laws, both in Romania, at the European and global level, which protect bats. But where does our contribution come into play?

First we must respect Nature, its diversity and achievements. We should not play with her ability to regenerate. Secondly, in case of contact with bats in the urban or natural environment, we can behave responsibly and with common sense, following some very simple rules. And we, bat researchers, in order not to evade our responsibility of protecting bats, have created (similar to our colleagues throughout Europe), a set of ethical guidelines in the research of Romanian bats.

A detailed description of threat factors, the European situation in the past decades, and further arguments to protect bats, can be found in the following works, from which the authors of the current text have also learned a lot:

  • Dietz C., Kiefer A. (2014): Die Fledermäuse Europas. Kennen, bestimmen, Schützen. Naturführer Kosmos, Stuttgart, pp. 400.
  • Hutson A.M., Mickleburgh S. P., Racey P.A. (2001): Microchiropteran Bats: Global Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN / SSC Chiroptera Specialist Group (link).
  • Racey P.A. (2009): Bats: status, Threats and conservation successes. Introduction. Endangered Species Research 8: 1-3.

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