If you’re like me, you grew up reading Batman comics and watching him save the day on television (yes, I’m dating myself here). If you did, or if you spent time over the past four decades immersed in popular culture, you’ll recall that one of the iconic parts of the Batman saga is the appearance of the Bat Signal – Batman’s symbol, projected in the night sky as a call to help Gotham City.
Bats have been misunderstood and reviled for centuries by humans who feared the creatures of the night. That’s why they’re such a big part of Halloween. But like vampires and Batman, most of the reasons people fear bats exist in the fantasy realm.
Before you go out tonight to celebrate Halloween or take your kids trick-or-treating, I hope you’ll take a moment to reexamine those preconceptions.
You see, in the real world bats are the true superheroes, helping humanity and the earth’s wildlife in many ways. They play important roles in nature and provide billions of dollars in insect pest control. In doing so, they help keep our forests healthy, put food on our tables, and even keep the mosquitoes down in our backyards.
Yet like all superheroes these amazing creatures have their share of archrivals, including disease and habitat loss. Even though they can’t send out a Bat Signal, we’ve seen the signs, and have joined forces with our conservation partners to help bats continue doing good deeds.
For almost ten years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and hundreds of partners have mobilized to fight white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease caused by a fungus. Since first noticed near Albany, New York in 2006, the disease has spread to 29 states and five Canadian provinces, killing millions of hibernating bats in its wake and threatening entire species with extinction. Last year we even listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened – the first bat species listed due to the threat of white-nose syndrome.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the charge against this devastating disease, having dedicated more than $26.4 million in research to understanding and managing it. Results have paid off, helping us develop a shared vision to defeat the scourge: conserve surviving bats where white-nose syndrome has been established, keep the fungus contained on the leading edge of the disease front, and prevent the fungus from reaching the presumed “white-nose syndrome-free” area.
In the past week, we’ve marked two significant milestones in carrying out our vision for bat conservation. The first was the dedication of the Sodalis Nature Preserve, the largest known hibernation area (ever!) of the endangered Indiana bat, another species affected by white-nose syndrome. With the City of Hannibal, Missouri; Enbridge Pipelines (FSP), L.L.C.; The Conservation Fund and Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, we permanently protected important bat habitat essential to the conservation and recovery of species affected by white-nose syndrome.
And just last week, we and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation gathered in Gotham – er, New York City, to announce an exciting new initiative, the Bats for the Future (BFF) Fund. This new fund will leverage corporate and private donations to help fund the development and implementation of new field treatments for white-nose syndrome on the leading edge of the disease.
The discovery of white-nose syndrome in the state of Washington earlier this year – which marked the spread of disease occurrences from coast to coast – underscores the urgent need to further curb the spread of the fungus and identify effective treatments that increase survival of bats exposed to it.
With seed money from the Service and donations from private funders rallied by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we hope to gain the upper hand in the fight against white-nose syndrome, while protecting and restoring the hibernacula that shelter them across the nation.
Thankfully, the world’s prejudices against bats are fading.
In fact, Halloween is the culmination of Bat Week, an international celebration of the world’s bats and the integral role they play in nature – and in our lives. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell highlighted the importance of protecting the health of bat populations this year, issuing a Bat Week proclamation that asks all Americans to join us in celebrating these fascinating supercreatures.
You can also play your part and make a difference for bats, creating bat-friendly habitat, hanging bat boxes and taking other simple steps that truly help.
I hope you’ll join us in coming to the rescue! Sometimes even heroes need heroes.