My Hero: Merlin Tuttle

A flying fox in Thailand

A flying fox in Thailand

A person I truly admire is a man named Merlin Tuttle. Have you heard of him?

In the 80’s Merlin Tuttle founded an organization called Bat Conservation International (BCI), partly in response to the growing panic in Austin, Texas over alarming numbers of bats moving into town. When the city rebuilt their Congress Avenue Bridge, they inadvertently created the perfect habitat for Mexican free-tailed bats who, much to the dismay of many people, began taking up residence under the bridge.

Bat Conservation International and Merlin Tuttle stepped in to convince people the bats were worth protecting and that so many of the things people believed about bats, were myths. Bats aren’t blind. They don’t all carry rabies. They won’t get stuck in your hair. They aren’t vampires. They are not flying mice. They are not pests. Sadly, in our culture bats are often feared, misunderstood and often persecuted as a result of this misinformation. Merlin Tuttle worked tirelessly to change the way Austin and the world looks at bats.

Amazingly, 30 years later, Austin embraces the Congress Avenue bats and has built a tourist industry around their nightly emergence from beneath the bridge. They call themselves “Bat capital of America.” Restaurants offer bat viewing from decks overlooking the river, boat operators take visitors on sunset cruises, people travel from all over the world to watch the one and a half million bats emerge.  Throughout the spring, summer and into fall, one and a half million bats who make the bridge home emerge each night, forming long, undulating columns that sweep up the river and disappear into the darkness where they will eat 1.5 million TONS OF INSECTS EACH NIGHT including crop pests that if left unchecked, would cause billions of dollars in damage. (This is an AMAZING spectacle–if you ever are in Austin, be sure and make time to see it!)

Merlin Tuttle faced immense challenges in his early days, powering forward because he recognized the importance of bats and could imagine a future where bats are valued and not feared. Of all the animals to try and protect, bats were probably the MOST difficult one but even so, he pursued. This dedication to such a worthy goal is inspiring and offers hope to all of us who strive to accomplish goals that seem unreachable. We need more leaders like this! In my opinion, THIS is what a real hero looks like.

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Wrinkle-lipped bats emerging from a cave in Thailand

These days bats are facing a different kind of trouble.  A disease known as white-nose syndrome has caused  80-97%mortality in some species. Since its discovery in the winter of 2006-2007 in a cave in upstate New York, this disease has spread to 23 states with scientists estimating more than 5 million bats have died from this disease so far.

What can you do? Read Five ways you can help BATS.

and  TEN things you may not know about BATS.

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  1. […] And these pictures are truly amazing! All of these slides are courtesy of Merlin Tuttle—founder of my favorite organization—Bat Conservation International. This organization works to change public perception of bats, […]

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