As a teen & young adult, the only magazine I ever subscribed to (and amassed quite a collection of) was National Geographic (NatGeo). Each month, the latest issue would arrive, and I would pore over it, marveling at the incredible photography and engrossing text and, perhaps more than anything, learning about the natural and cultural richness of this amazing spinning rock we all share. Had you told me then I would eventually get to visit some of the exotic Asian places it showcased – all so far from my home in Canada – I would have had major doubts. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I even entertain the thought of being written about in NatGeo.
But that happened today. And when I saw the article, I cried tears of joy. It is so surreal. Unfortunately, the article topic is also one that has often caused me to shed tears of fear, sadness and anger. The focus is on bats (particularly the painted woolly bat, Kerivoula picta in South and Southeast Asia) being hunted and then sold online to markets overseas. Why is this happening? So that consumers can enjoy wearing bats in their hair, around their necks (or other body parts) or on their hats. So they can proudly display them as taxidermy art in their homes.
Of course, I am a bat specialist, so the trade in bats is an issue that hits especially close to home. But it is part and parcel of the overall wildlife trade – a major conservation threat right up there with forest loss in its starring role in the loss of tropical biodiversity.
This is what motivates me to work for the IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group, Bat Trade Working Group, in which my group members and I have been working to document and quantify the online trade in painted woolly bats. Although we are starting with this one species (given its easily identifiable appearance), we ultimately want to end the unsustainable trade in bats, period. To have Dina Maron and NatGeo recognise the importance of this issue and help raise awareness makes me even more optimistic that this goal is achievable. Very grateful and humbled by this entire experience.