Bats are one of those creatures that are very small and magnificent at the same time. Likewise, the relatively short time that I was joining the CBRC crew was absolutely great. During a 6-week internship, I was part of the teams in their winter monitoring, which allowed me to see numerous different species of bats hibernating in dozens of nationally and continentally important roosts, located in various sites all over Romania.

It is not easy for me to express my enthusiasm about the past weeks in words. At the end of my bachelor’s degree, as an absolute newcomer to bat conservation and research, I was stunned when I got the opportunity to join a monitoring in Romania. The country with 32 different bat species and large colonies is rightly known as hotspots for bats, as well as for many other animal and plant species.  While looking for an organisation where I could gain practical experience in species and environmental protection, I came across a description in a bat protection conference in 2021.

In the short descriptions about the conference participants, there was also that of Szilárd-Lehel Bücs, a bat expert who has been dealing with bats for over 15 years, who is Romania’s scientific focal point for the EUROBATS Agreement and head of the CBRC. Enclosed was a presentation about “Bat colonies in man-made underground sites of Romania: conservation and challenges” which illustrated what I was looking for. Besides gaining experience for my further education, I also hoped to have an exciting time learning many new things. Crawling, swimming and climbing through caves and mines with a diverse team to see bats and collect data was exactly that: exciting times and gathering specific experience.

Within two weeks of intensive monitoring, we already checked over 39 caves, 6 mines, and 6 tunnels, located in the karstic regions of several national and natural parks, all Natura 2000 sites. During the first monitoring we already saw over 80.000 bats of a total of 15 different species. During the second week numbers were lower with around 17.000 bats, while the diversity of the species was greater. It was unbelievable for me to find myself each day in 2-3 different sites, twice for a whole week, often in stunningly beautiful caves. We frequently found horseshoe bat species (R. ferrumequinum, R. hipposideros, R. euryale, R. blasii), the large Myotis (Myotis myotis, Myotis blythii), as well as other strictly protected species, like the bent-winged bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) or long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii). Besides the big monitoring trips, we also observed a few sites (batboxes) closely located to the city of Cluj-Napoca.

Overall, it was incredible for me to be able to look at these small flying mammals so closely. As a mindful observer, my experience with bats was mainly limited to the observation of flying individuals during evening walks in summer. Suddenly seeing Romania’s second largest colony of bent-winged bats (around 30.000 bats) and pipistrelles (around 40.000 bats) was something that is missing even from the repertoire of people who have been involved in bat research and conservation for years. I was able to experience all this with experts that are fieldwork enthusiasts, humorous and with team spirit. And who accepted me as if I had been part of their team since a long time.

They gradually introduced me to the species and the sporting art of caving. It was an intense cultural experience: to work in an international team with different people from Romania, Poland and Russia. It was great to see everyone’s commitment to bat conservation. This collaboration of the different characters visualises that although species conservation is often managed primarily at the national level, it cannot be understood as a national matter alone. Europe-wide agreements such as EUROBATS are essential to achieve comprehensive protection of bat species on the continental level.

In this way, during the second monitoring expedition, we surveyed many roosts located in South-Western Romania (the Banat region). Special attention was given to bats that were ringed in neighbouring Serbia and to potential new colonies. In the framework of a cross-border project with Serbian bat experts, bat migration is studied across the Danube and the Iron Gates region, Serbian bats coming to SW Romanian caves to hibernate. So far mainly horseshoe bats with Serbian rings were observed, but also some bent-winged bats. With evidence of a significant migration in the region, the pressure and challenge exists to improve the conservation status of these colonies on both sides of the Danube.

For me it was great to experience the bat monitoring and the beauty of the Romanian landscapes. It was the first time I was able to see bats so close up. We identified many species and saw impressive colonies. It was the first time for me to explore a cave at all and then there were dozens of them at once. We drove through landscapes that I couldn’t have imagined before. Through the team I got an insight into the field work, as well as into the challenge to protect (Romanian) bats. With a view to my future career, I can now also imagine being involved with bats in the long term.

I am very lucky that I was allowed to join the team for this winter monitoring season and hope to come back very soon for more!

Thanks to all for taking me with you.

Vela is a student at the Applied Sciences University of Bremen, Germany, who joined the 2022 winter monitoring season, participating in the evaluation of dozens of continentally important bat roosts.