Bat conservation in threatened ecosystems of Bolivia
Bolivia is in critical need of bat conservation, with many species in decline due to habitat destruction and public misconception. More than half of all Bolivian bat species are found in its fragile montane forests which are threatened by expanding agriculture, mining and clearance to make way for pasture.
The bats cannot survive without the forest, and neither can the forest survive without bats. Bats play a major role in maintaining healthy ecosystems throughout Bolivia through pollination and seed dispersal. Without bats, at least 10% of all Bolivian plants would fail to reproduce. Several include bat-dependent plant species such as the Balsa tree and Pink Trumpet tree that are important to local people for practical and medicinal use.
Despite their role, in Bolivia bats are widely feared, thought to be rabid, and their benefits seldom acknowledged. Few species feed on blood for survival, but because the Common Vampire Bat spreads disease and can have an economic impact on cattle, all bats are persecuted.
Many ranchers think all bats are vampires, and hoping to reduce their numbers burn and dynamite cave and tree roosts indiscriminately. The result of these irrational campaigns is that they kill large numbers of beneficial bat species, destroy habitat and have little effect on vampire bats.
In 1998, Bolivian biologist, Dr. Luis Aguirre, founded the Bolivian Bat Conservation Program to protect bats through education and practical habitat conservation throughout Bolivia.
Working with an army of volunteers, he and his team have increased the known bat species for Bolivia from 106 to 122. By increasing knowledge of bats and where they live, breed and feed, BBCP is informing conservation policy and developing action plans for threatened bat species. A major component of the project is a public education campaign targeting adults and children. Through workshops, meetings, and school lectures in local villages, Luis is slowly changing attitudes amongst communities and government health officials about how bats are critical to Bolivian ecosystems.
- Of the 122 bat species recorded in Bolivia, 19 are threatened due to habitat destruction. Thanks largely to BBCP, all 19 were recently included on the country’s threatened species list.
- The education program has reached more than 150,000 people. The project is now
expanding into other parts of South America.
- In 2006 BBCP rediscovered the red listed Tomes’s Sword-nosed Bat 74 years after it was first recorded in Bolivia.
Luis leads production of first documentary about Bolivia’s bats
In May, the first documentary on bat ecology and conservation of Bolivian bats was aired on local and national TV across Bolivia. The production of the film was supported by Whitley Fund for Nature and Bat Conservation International and will be used in Luis’s education campaigns. The documentary DVD will also be released with a small booklet with a range of bat and conservation related activities for teachers and pupils.
Please follow the links below to view the documentary (in Spanish):
KEY TO BOLIVIAN BATS AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD
June 5th 2009
As part of his Whitley Award winning project, and with co-support from a number of other international funders, Luis and his team have created a comprehensive key to the bats of Bolivia, now available for download.
To download the document (pdf), please click here.