Rodrigo Medellín & The Tequila Bat
A man fights tirelessly through the pitch black of night to defend the lives of those who have been threatened. In the forests, countryside and caves of Mexico, he perseveres in the darkness. To those who know him, he is conservation hero Dr Rodrigo Medellín. To the rest of the world, he is known as the Bat Man of Mexico.
The lesser long nosed bat, playfully known as the Tequila Bat, is a creature of many firsts. In 2015 it was the first species to be removed from the Mexican Federal List of Endangered Animals. In 2018, it was the first bat to be removed from the U.S Federal List of Endangered Species, the same year it was taken off the IUCN Endangered Species List.
This extraordinary revival is thanks in no small part to the immense effort of Dr Medellín. His educational, scientific, and commercial initiatives combined to bring an entire species back from the brink of extinction. Since the 1980s where there were perhaps fewer than 1,000 lesser long nosed bats. Today there are perhaps as many as 200,000. In the words of Sir David Attenborough, “There is arguably no one who has done more for the conservation of bats in Latin America.”
Growing to a miniature three inches in length, the lesser long nosed bat is defined by a triangular flap on the tip of its nose. Small in stature, these bats play a huge role in stewarding the desert ecosystems of Mexico and North America. The lesser long nosed bat feeds on the nectar of various cacti species from central Mexico all the way up to Arizona, helping to pollinate this essential desert flora.
Increasingly, the lesser long nosed bat came under threat from human sources. One primary source was man’s simple fear of bats, stemming from blood-sucking vampire bats which often feed off cattle and are known to carry rabies. People, rarely concerned with distinguishing between species, launched a full-frontal assault on all bat populations causing significant decline. This decline was further exacerbated when humans began disturbing their roosting caves which were also used by drug and people smugglers.
Then there is the source from which the lesser long nosed bat gets its playful name. One of their primary sources of food is the nectar of the blue agave cactus - one of the main ingredients in the production of tequila. Farmers began finding it more economical to harvest the blue agave before it flowers and to use clones of the plant, getting rid of the pollination process altogether. This loss of nectar is not only disastrous for the bats, but also makes the blue agave crops dangerously susceptible to bacterial and fungal infection.
For over 40 years, therefore, Dr Medellín has been actively championing the cause of bats in his native Mexico and beyond. Central to his efforts is reaching out to ordinary people and educating them on the importance of bats and the benefits they bring. As well as being a key pollinator, bats are industrious pest controllers, helping to further protect farmer’s crops. In changing people’s relationship to bats, Dr Medellín has gone a long way towards ensuring their protection and promoting policies right at the heart of the Mexican government to conserve their populations.
In addition to this, Dr Medellín has also helped to organise the production of ‘bat friendly’ tequila. This initiative has successfully convinced a number of farmers to set aside parts of their farms for natural blue agave pollination. Sure enough, during the night the lesser long nosed bats can be found feeding on this precious nectar in these special sections of farm. The result? Increasing bat numbers and the creation of bat friendly tequila. Salud!
For all of his efforts and insights, Dr Medellín has undertaken a number of important roles in the world of conservation. He is Senior Professor of Ecology at the Institute of Ecology, University of Mexico. He has acted as the President of the Society of Conservation Biology, is the founder of the Program for the Conservation of Bats of Mexico, founding Director of the Latin American Network of Bat Conservation, founder of his own NGO BIOCONCIENCIA, and is also Co-Chair of the Bat Specialist Group of IUCN.
As a faithful servant in the world of conservation, we here at Wildscreen would like to celebrate the immense effort and success of Dr Rodrigo Medellín.
Written by Liam Curran.