By Kristina Casagrand
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica —A sphinx guards The Bat Jungle in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Before visitors are allowed to enter the show room, or even play with their metal bat ear simulators, they must answer questions about the virtues of the world’s only flying mammals.
An air of urgency pervades the museum’s introductory lecture. Bats are dying. Vacuum pressure around wind farms, says local biologist Vino, explodes bat hearts. Pesticides used in Costa Rican pineapple, melon and rice fields harm bat health. Because they help suppress insect populations, malaria is rising in areas across the country. Inside the museum, he thumbs through maps of North America, pointing out the spread of white-nose syndrome. “Bam bam bam,” he says. “All gone.”
Despite his negative predictions about bat populations—”this will be the biggest extinction in history in our lives”—Vino insists he’s an optimist.
Speaking with crisp, professorial diction, Vino rattles off facts about fruit bats, vampire bats and nectar-feeding bats. He compares them with other animals, usually to highlight their “superior evolution.”
“Forget bees and butterflies,” he says. “Bats are the most important pollinators.” In Costa Rica, only bats can successfully pollinate bananas and agave. Started by leading bat researcher Richard LaVal, the museum touts every merit that the bat has to offer, serving to educate about an animal that good publicity sometimes shafts.