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New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung (Newspaper) - March 27, 1996, New Braunfels, Texas 8 a Horizons 96 The Places We Call Home O Wednesday March 27 1996 Holy guano Batman those winged rodents are vital to places like Gotham City By THOMAS GODLEY Sports Editor Clinging to the walls of a secluded cave just south of New Braunfels a legion of furrywinged crea tures prepares for its nighttime vigilance over the Hill Country At the first hint of darkness they begin their ritual flight into the sur rounding countrside searching for food and using a sophisticated radar sensory to hone in on their prey The Bracken Caves located in the southern region of Comal County just below Cibolo Creek are home to more than 20 million Mexican freetailed bats Their nightly emergence in the summertime offers one of the most spectacular sights in nature Yet few people are privy to this magnificent spectacle Currently the privately owned cave is reserved for scientific research If it were open to the public the caves could do much to dispel mis information The countless myths portrayals of bats as winged demons monsters in Dracula movies and horrid stories of needles and rabies have tarnished the creatures image Ironically the beleaguered bat is rarely a threat to humans but a vital part of the ecosystem Slowly but surely the much maligned reputation as a nighttime nemesis and blooddrinker is turning to one of a wildlife wonder Through educational programs the public farmers in particular are learning the benefits of having bats in nearby caves Along with their impor tant role in the pollination and seed dispersion in certain plant life these voracious insecteaters do plenty to decrease the need for pesticides While evidence is still being sought to determine the correlation between the specific diet of bats and the types of insects which feast on farmers crops theres no question that the Mexican freetailed serves a key role in the Hill Country We know they are important to keeping nature in balance by control ling nighttime insect said Bob Benson public information officer for Bat Conservation International Bracken He may not be much to look at but without him and his millions of friends wed be awash in pests like mosquitoes of ways The group clears trails cuts weeds maintains fences and roads just to name a few yearly projects Bam berger believes the bats with their steady diet of mosquitoes as well as moths repay area residents in their own way We estimate the bat colony at Bracken consumes about 250 tons of insects every Bamberger said In dry times they can roam as far as 100 miles in search of food They are very vital to the San Antonio and New Braunfels area They make our back yard life more The caves are also a source of bat guano feces which is extracted during the winter The waste is mined for organic fertilizer and other uses Sci entists continue to look into utilizing guanos high nitrogen content and countless forms of unique bacteria The research could someday improve detergents detoxify waste and create antibiotics Benson said The caves in Bracken while under the ownership of local ranchers had long been a relatively safe haven for the bats However wildlife conservation ists feared the possibility of irreparable damage being done by a single disaster or act of vandalism Because the bats colonize in such vast numbers an iso The Bracken bat cave is home to more than 20 million Mexican freetailed bats an organization which pur chased the Bracken Caves in 1992 Without healthy bat populations the demand for chemical pesticides would likely increase It would also jeopardize the entire ecosystem of plant and ani mal species and could even have harmful effects on human Studies are currently being done by researchers at Bracken and other caves in Texas and across the United States Mexican freetailed bats Tadarida brasiliensis are one of 44 North Amer ican species studied by Merlin D Tut tle who founded BCI and was instru mental in spreading information to save bats which were living in the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin the largest urban bat colony in the world Jay David Bamberger a trustee of BCI and volunteer caretaker at Brack en Caves has been working with mem bers of the Bexar Grotto a San Anto niobased caveexplorers group com mitted to preservation efforts Bam berger said the mission is to protect the cave from development in a variety v The column of bats is so thick it shows up on San Antonio television weather radar lated stroke of violence could wipe out a significant number Combined with the threat of urbanization from resi dential development in San Antonios northern outskirts the scenario led BCI to secure funds from a grant by the Ewing Halsell Foundation The delicate nature of Bracken Caves is magnified further by its use as a bat nursery Following winter in Mexico the females migrate to Brack en and produce millions of young pups whose mortality rate is crucial to the species survival Bracken Cave shel ters the largestknown bat maternity colony in the world The new owners have yet to make the caves open to the public Benson said BCI is considering limited public access for tours The difficulty lies in securing routes through privately owned land on the perimeter of the cave site In the meantime the caves are reserved for the bats and the explo ration of researchers who continue gathering data that hopefully will reveal new information and dispel the myths Benson does not downplay the potential dangers of bats coming in contact with humans but he stresses a look but dont rule of advice People are gradually learning more about bats as more information is made readily Benson said Part of the growing awareness is that people want to learn more about these so called scary animals Its ironic that they are also one of the most benefi Home Health Care Agency providing health services in the home setting home is where the heart 731N Walnut 6297568 McDonalds Pocket Change L Homestyle Burger Sandwich or Sandwich Each Extra Value Meal Just All Extra Value Meals Include Large Fries Medium Soft Drink McDonalds McDonalds 1201 East IH35 New Braunfels TX 78130 Printed in the United States of America 1035 IH35 East New Braunfels TX 78130 McDonalds Corporation
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