Zoo Update with Denise Verret

Celebrate Spookyheroes!
October 9, 2020

The hoary bat is one of three bat species documented in Griffith Park and on Zoo grounds. Photo by Bruce D. Taubert

The arrival of October brings cooler weather and the beginning of the last quarter of the year, a season of revelry and thanksgiving. Kicking off the fun is Halloween, a much-anticipated holiday in my family that has us re-watching our favorite horror flicks (although my eyes stay mostly closed) and trying to see who can come up with the most creative costume. Being the CEO and director of a zoo in a large urban park, I was introduced to a very interesting conservation effort that has me rethinking my Halloween costume altogether to honor a very special animal—the bat. I’ll bet you didn’t know that October 24–31 is Bat Week, an international, annual celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation!

In popular culture, the bat is a Halloween icon featured in decorations, folklore, and movies—especially the vampire bat. This popular bat is one of more than 1,400 bat species. It is a small, non-descript, brown mammal that does indeed drink the blood of other animals for survival. But, not to worry, the vampire bat is found in Central and South America, not the U.S. and its preferred blood donors are cattle and other livestock. The bats that reside in Griffith Park—big brown bats, hoary bats, and Mexican free-tailed bats—feast solely on insects.

Bats have been on Earth for more than 50 million years and are widely dispersed across six continents! They come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (informally known as the bumblebee bat) to the giant golden-crowned flying fox, a fruit-eating megabat found in the Philippines with a wingspan of up to six feet. And, while I can go on forever about how unique bats are, I think what most people don’t realize is that bats are incredibly vital to the health of our environment.

Bats provide essential services in the form of pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal, making them vital to the health of global ecosystems. Today, bats are under threat from widespread habitat destruction, hunting, accelerated climate change, invasive species, and other stresses. But, for every animal that is endangered, there is always something we humans can do to help. So, this October, when your family is considering their Halloween plans, I encourage everyone to remember these creatures of the night and how helpful they are to our way of life. Your contribution can be as simple as educating yourself and others on the plight of certain species of bat, building a bat house, planting a night garden, or opting out of pesticides that are harmful to animals! To learn more about Bat Week and bat conservation, please visit batweek.org or batcon.org.

Many of us in the zoo world anticipate autumn not only as a time to spotlight animals associated with Halloween, but also because it is when the annual Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) national conference takes place. This opportunity to share ideas and experiences with other zoo professionals is definitely a highlight of the season. This year’s conference took place in September virtually, for the first time ever and I was honored to serve as moderator for a panel discussion, guiding a group of distinguished zoo and aquarium professionals through a range of topics centered around racial equity. You can explore an overview of the panel’s insights and observations here.

Some bat facts (text).

Infographic courtesy of Bat Conservation International