The conservation hero behind the mask: Mexico's Bat Man, Rodrigo Medellín, joined us for Takeover Tuesday in October.
Our Halloween-edition of Takeover Tuesday spanned WFN’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Rodrigo Medellín has been working with us for 16 years, over which time he has expanded his efforts to 16 countries across 4 continents. Today, Rodrigo’s latest Continuation Funding project is connecting bat conservationists across Africa and Latin America.
COVID-19 has done nothing to help these mammals’ already-bad reputation. Rodrigo is passionate about myth-busting to reveal the crucial role bats play in everyone’s daily life through pollination, pest control and seed dispersal.
Catch up on our Q&A below to discover the conservation hero behind the mask. Or, click here to rewatch our chat live from Mexico including:
- Bat skull show-and-tell
- The real #COVID19 culprit
- Why we should toast bats when drinking tequila
Q1. What inspired you to pursue a career in conservation?
I have been touched by the natural world since before I started talking or crawling. All my outings were to the zoo or a park to see animals and all my presents were animal books. Then, at 12, I appeared on a national TV quiz about wildlife. After that a mammalogy professor at the University of Mexico (UNAM) invited me into the field to study mammals for real – a dream come true for a kid that age. I’ve never looked back… I continue to approach my work in the same way as the 12-year-old I was then!
Q2. What was your first experience WITH A BAT like?
The first bat came into my hands when I was 13 years old and the UNAM professor took me to my first cave. To this day I react as excitedly as back then whenever I catch a bat.
Q3. What do you love most about BATS?
The fact that bats are the most unfairly treated animals on earth: they have an unjustified bad reputation. The services they provide and roles they play benefit all humans, every day of our lives, and secure the functioning of entire ecosystems.
Q4. What is the main threat facing BATS?
Misunderstanding, misinformation and ignorance. In this pandemic bats have been singled out as the culprits, which is completely false. Bats do not give you COVID-19; that is simply impossible. If you want to find the culprit, look in the nearest mirror.
Q5. Why is it so important that we protect THEM?
Because bats are crucial for pollinating food and drink crops such as corn, rice, coffee and tea. They also pollinate many ecologically and economically important plants, from the majestic Ceiba tree, to the columnar cacti of the Mexican desert, and agaves – the source of tequila, mezcal, and many other products.
Bats are also essential for dispersing seeds – regenerating forests and spreading tropical fruit that other species rely on, as well as for controlling numbers of insects like mosquitos.
Q6. What is the project achievement you’re most proud of so far?
Demonstrating the essential, varied role bats play for human wellbeing and functioning ecosystems. I am currently working to demonstrate that bats are crucial for controlling mosquito populations, having previously focused on their importance for corn, cotton and tequila.
Q7. What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?
I don´t think I have ever worked harder than in the past 8 months, doing damage control due to the prolific public campaigns that accuse bats of causing the pandemic. In addition, because of the pandemic, our projects have been severely affected.
Q8. How has your relationship with wfn impacted you and your project?
WFN has transformed my life; the exposure, the award, the network of winners, have enriched my personal and professional life in a way no other factor has. As a result of winning a 2004 Whitley Award, the 2012 Whitley Gold Award and a few rounds of Continuation Funding, I got to know some of the most fascinating people: champions, partners, friends, sponsors, heroes, and colleagues. We frequently compare notes, learn from and support each other and continue growing together.
Q9. How has/is COVID-19 affecting you and your project?
COVID-19 has disrupted the development of all my projects across my personal and professional life. I used to travel about 70% of the time, now it is less than 10%. At this time I am trying to re-launch my projects in line with all precautions, but it is far from normal. Hopefully in a year some level of normality will return.
Q10. Describe a normal day for you…
A normal pre-COVID day for me starts with waking up in my home office with a lovely view of Mexico City and my garden.
I start by meeting with students, or online with my colleagues across Europe, Asia and Australia. Then I teach, giving seminars to universities in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, and Asia, and have planning meetings to continue advancing my projects.
I casually observe the wildlife coming to my garden (like humming birds!). Then lunch with the family and more meetings and writing papers and books in the afternoon. I usually finish my day at around 8pm.
Q11. What can the public do to help your mission?
It’s very easy:
- Spread the word about how important bats are for our everyday life and for ecosystems.
- Engage with bat conservation campaigns, activities and organisations. You can follow my YouTube series here.
- Build a bat house with your family.
- Help the occasional bat that gets stuck inside using infographics from my NGO, Biocon Ciencia on Facebook.
- Consider ways to reduce or limit your ecological footprint on the world: eat less meat, get informed about the origin of your food, reduce your water consumption and limit your demand on energy and resources.
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And to help conservation heroes like Rodrigo, you can donate to WFN here. Thank you.