The Bat Cave, Protected

The Bracken Bat Cave outside San Antonio, Texas, is home to millions of bats. Here, a few of them emerge from the colony in 2011.

The Bracken Bat Cave outside San Antonio, Texas, is home to millions of bats. Here, a few of them emerge from the colony in 2011. Eric Gay/AP

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this story on bat habitat conservation:

Down a narrow gravel drive and a short walk past cactus and scrub cedars outside of San Antonio, Texas, is a gaping, dark cave mouth, 60 feet wide, nestled at the bottom of a steep hill.

This is the Bracken Bat Cave. Each night at 7:30, millions of bats spiral out of the deep cave and streak off toward the darkening southern sky.

Thanks to a $20 million deal signed Friday by San Antonio, conservation groups and a local developer, the night sky around the cave will stay dark, and the mother and baby bats inside will have a buffer between them and the hazards of city sprawl.

A Massive Bat Maternity Ward

Bracken Cave is a massive maternity ward for pregnant females coming back after wintering in Mexico, says Fran Hutchins, coordinator of the cave for Bat Conservation International.

“Bracken Cave is the largest colony of bats in the world, somewhere between 15 and 20 million Mexican free-tail bats,” Hutchins says. “So they deposit the baby in what we call the nursery section of the cave, which is just millions of hairless baby bats, so when you look at it, it’s a ceiling of pink, hairless baby bats.”

In wave after wave, for almost four hours every night, the adult bats fly off to the cotton and corn fields in south Texas, looking for food.

“A nursing mom is generating at least her weight in milk every day, and she’s going to eat her body weight in bugs every night,” Hutchins says. “So this colony alone, that’s 100 tons of bugs every night.”

Threatened By Development

The cave sits within a preserve, but next to the preserve is a tract of land, and last year a developer started advertising plans to build 3,500 homes there, alarming conservationists. BCI Executive Director Andy Walker says bats are attracted to houses and light.

“We would have had hundreds of bats congregating on the porches, around street lights, around swimming pools,” Walker says. “Baby bats that were either resting or sick, or older bats that were sick, might be found by family pets and brought into houses.”…

Read the whole story here

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