The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is inviting members of the public to take part in the country’s Bat Night on Thursday, to explore firsthand the unique traits of this animal that thrives in darkness.
“There isn’t a single place that there aren’t bats in Israel,” Dr. Asaf Tsoar, southern district ecologist for INPA, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Israel’s Bat Night, subtitled Preserving the Flying Mammal, is part of the larger International Bat Night effort, which technically takes place on Saturday night.
International Bat Night is organized by the EUROBATS Secretariat, which came together in 1995 following The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats in 1994.
Bat Night has taken place every year since 1997 on the last full weekend of August, in more than 30 countries, according to the organization.
One-third of Israel’s 100 mammalian species are bats, making the country very rich in the small winged animals, said Tsoar, who completed his doctorate on fruit bats at the Hebrew University.
Out of the 33 species of bats in Israel, there is one species of fruit bats, which can quite commonly be seen on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, according to Tsoar.
While they perform a special duty of pollinating plants like fig and sycamore trees, these bats are oftentimes seen as a nuisance by people who find them spitting residual fruit juices on buildings and cars, he said.
All the rest of Israel’s bats are insectivores, and tend to feed on whatever insects come their way – aside from certain species that feed only on scorpions or mosquitoes, Tsoar said.
“They are very important to us because of the biological services they give us,” he said.
From the 1960s through the 1980s in particular, fruit bats were frequently fumigated due to suspicions they were causing damage to agriculture, in what Tsoar described as “an ecological disaster.”
Such action stopped after researchers determined that fruit bats are very loyal to specific trees, and will fly up to 20 kilometers to feed. Much more pinpointed action, such as catching individual bats causing specific orchard damage and transferring them to other environments became preferable.
“This is a much better solution,” Tsoar said. “It doesn’t cause all the damage to the environment and doesn’t hurt the bats.”
Despite the popular phrase “blind as a bat,” Tsoar told the Post
that out of the 1,200 species of bats in the world, none is blind, and some surpass humans in optical capacity.
Many have a sonar sense involving special clicks, and use echolocation techniques, he said. Several laboratories in Israel are researching these phenomena, he said.
At the INPA, Tsoar said that he and his colleagues are constantly monitoring the country’s bat populations in their habitats and roosts, in order to ensure that they do not weaken.
Some decline has occurred in the North, which could be a result of consuming insects infected by herbicides or human disturbances of bat roosts during winter hibernation periods, he said.
When people enter bat roosts while the animals are hibernating, they may wake them and cause them to deplete fat reserves as a result of the unexpected arousal, Tsoar said.
As a result, INPA officials have now placed signs at major roosts in the North requesting that the public not enter during the winter.
Israel’s progress on bat conservation is advancing, and Tsoar said that the country is set to join the Eurobats convention this year, following positive efforts of Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz on the subject.
Signing the convention will obligate the country to protect and monitor its bats, as well as communicate on the subject with the other signatories.
As far as Bat Night is concerned, Tsoar said that members of the public will have the opportunity to come closer to the country’s bat populations – hear lectures, see presentations, wear special echo location hearing devices and see the animals flying about.
Activities are scheduled to be held for families at Yarkon National Park, Qumran National Park and Hai Bar Nature Reserve in Yotvata.
Originally, Habesor National Park in Eshkol was included in the list, but was eliminated due to security concerns during Operation Protective Edge.
Children and their parents will receive answers to questions like how bats navigate in the dark, how many mosquitoes bats can eat each night, why winter dormancy is so important and how to prevent bat extinction, the INPA said.
At Qumran, visitors will hear from a bat researcher, as well as take a bat cave tour at the nearby Einot Tzukim.
Hai Bar Nature Reserve will offer opportunities to feed bats, as well as a sunset safari tour to see other animals – like addax, oryx, wild donkeys, ostriches, wolves, foxes, caracals, jackals and hyenas.
Camping will also be permitted at the reserve.
As Bat Night approaches, Tsoar stressed that people should dismiss the superstitious association between bats and vampires. He lamented the fact that Bram Stoker’s Dracula
damaged the PR for bats all over the world.
Out of all the bat species around the globe, only three have vampire properties, and these are located only in South and Central America, Tsoar said. And even these do not jump on people as they sleep.
“We’re celebrating once a year to show people how important they are,” he said.
“There are so many superstitions about them and most of them are not true. They don’t tangle in your hair; they don’t suck your blood.”
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