Welcome to Year of the Bat 2011 - 2012

Year of the Bat is sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS). Please join us today in promoting bat conservation, research and education around the globe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beauty or the Beast?

You may think that not many bats are auditioning to grace the pages of Vogue magazine or National Geographic. But you would be wrong. Just as we regularly take stock of what constitutes beauty or brains in modern society, so should we reassess how to evaluate or present certain species, including bats, to the public at large. Remember the wholesome models of the 1970s or the athletic cover girls of the '80s? And the stick thin toothpicks of the ’90s? Recall what happened when the glossy promotion of an anorexic ideal was deemed dangerous to a generation of girls:  the pendulum swung back again toward more voluptuous and realistic superstars. Tastes can change, especially when informed by knowledge or empathy.

Why is this important to the conservation dialogue, you ask? Well, just the other day, New York University’s Scienceline proposed that zoos are the Ritz Carltons and Aman resorts for many animal species, where only the rich and beautiful wildlife can check in. The article Ugly Animals Need Love Too tells us that if an animal is large, cute, human-like or colorful... he’s in! But the motley crew of ugly yet endangered animals are often given a pass.   
Brutish or beastly?
© Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, http://www.batcon.org/
It’s true that zoos must negotiate a difficult balance between conservation and profit – and showcasing the sexier beasts can generate funds to care for less charismatic creatures.

But are there “just some animals we may never love”... like bats? We think not. The common perception of bats is that they are dark, ugly, spooky... even dirty! No one could love a bat like that, except on Halloween.

Did you know that bats spend a large portion of time grooming themselves every day, like cats? That the dreaded vampire bat often adopts orphan bat pups? Or that a mother bat can pick out her own baby pup, after a night flight to forage for food, in a maternity roost of thousands of bats? And while insect-eating microbats are not the most likely beauty pageant queens, megabats – also known as fruit bats or flying foxes – are quite sympathetic-looking creatures. Some have even called these bats adorable, cute, striking and, dare we say it, beautiful.  (If you’re still not convinced, take a look at the Year of the Bat image gallery or throw a glance at the “gentle fliers of the African night,” as photographed by our own campaign ambassador, Merlin Tuttle.)
Soft and sweet? © Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International,
If you ever have the chance to watch a colony of bats take to the skies at sunset, it’s truly a spectacular sight. And if you also think about the key role that bats play in our environment as pollinators, seed dispersers and insect eaters, you might realize that bats have been given a bad rap, both on the beauty scene and as contributors to our well-being.
Love a bat today
© Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, http://www.batcon.org/
So take the time to learn a bit more about bats. You just might discover that, like humans, bats are complex, captivating creatures - and infinitely lovable.

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