Conservation success for Mexican bat species

09 May 2012 | News story

Since the age of 12, Rodrigo Medellín has had a passion for bats and other animals. As bats lack widespread appeal he promotes them through research and strong conservation education programmes with his team, and tries to make people aware of their value. In recognition of this dedication, Rodrigo won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2008, allowing him and his team to do more to protect bats in Mexico.

Bats have vital roles in healthy ecosystems pollinating flowers, dispersing seeds and eating insect pests. Unfortunately there is a common misconception that these animals are disease-carrying, blood-drinking creatures that should be feared. In reality attacks by bats on humans are rare and their positive contributions should be valued more highly.

In 1994, Rodrigo, who is Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group, founded the Program for the Conservation of Bats of Mexico in partnership with the University of Mexico, and Bat Conservation International. Farmers often mistake harmless bats for the vampire bats that prey on their cattle. To avoid unnecessary killings, the programme teaches vampire-bat control and presents more positive images of bats and their usefulness through community workshops and nationwide media exposure.

An award winning radio show aimed mainly at children, Adventures in Flight, has also reached millions of listeners with a series of short programmes about bat biology and conservation.

The power of educating children was highlighted in 1996 when rumours began to circulate that “chupacabras”, mythical, unidentified livestock-killing creatures that usually turn out to be coyotes with a bad case of mange, were hiding in the famous Cueva de la Boca caves, home to the world’s largest Mexican Free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) population.

Locals threatened to burn the cave until the children, who had recently been visited by Rodrigo and his team, explained that the bats had benefits and should be protected. The cave and the bats, which can eat up to 12 tonnes of insects each night, are still protected today.

Recently, success has also been achieved for the Lesser Long-nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae), a migratory pollinator listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. After 18 years of research and conservation work, this species will soon be the first Mexican mammal to leave Mexico's Federal List of Endangered Species.

The strategy used by Rodrigo and his team has been used to develop similar initiatives in Bolivia, Costa Rica and Guatemala to good success and now the Latin American Network for Bat Conservation has been established, which is the largest organization of its kind worldwide.

Today, Rodrigo continues to use his passion and commitment to promote the conservation of all of Mexico’s wildlife, changing negative opinions into positive ones.

You can find out more about the Rolex Awards for Enterprise and Rodrigo Medellín here