In the recent episode of the podcast, I speak with Brian Pope of Lubee Bat Conservancy. Brian has been working with animals his entire life, and but joined Lubee and started working with bats full time in 2007.
I learned a lot speaking with Brian, mainly that bats love playing with toys and taking things apart, that they can eat nearly 5,000-7,000 insects a night, that they are the only things that can pollinate agave plants (which are crucial in the production of tequila), and that they are being used by the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and the US Army Medical Research of Infectious Diseases to find cures for some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Brian puts a lot of myths about bats to rest, including that they are blind, that they are all nocturnal, and that they don’t all echolocate.
Below is the interview with Brian, but scroll down further within the transcript to see photos of his bats as well as their live Explore.org videos.
Interview with Brian Pope of Lubee Bat Conservancy
DFYB: All right, I’m here today with Brian Pope. He’s a dedicated and passionate professional who specializes in nonprofit leadership, zoological management, conservation and education. And he currently serves as a director of the Lubee Bat Conservancy, a leader in bat conversation, (conservation) and education. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Pope: Well, thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
DFYB: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to chat.
Brian Pope: So we are also involved in bat conversation as well as conservation. So you were correct in that, but yeah, we’ve been doing this for 31 years and really thoroughly enjoy it, we do.
DFYB: Nice. Yeah. Thank you for, uh, it was completely on purpose. So thank you for catching that. Well talk about your career. You know, I know Lubee has been around for 31 years, but you have a long career with different types of animals. And one of the first things I thought of before I started looking into some of your, you know, some of your other interviews and some other content you have out there, like what made you decide to start working with bats out of all the animals you have in the past?
Brian Pope: Warm weather. I could say that because I’m from, I’m from Southwestern Pennsylvania, about an hour about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh, so I kind of grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and I was just always an outdoor animal kid. You know, I come from my entire family always, we always had pets and just everybody loved animals, and I was that kid who was running around. I lifted up rocks and, you know, looking at salamanders, grabbing snakes, I can tell you, I’ve worked a lot of snakes. I probably I’ve been bit by most of them, but I was just always an animal kid. You know, I remember walking to my grandparents house and you know, I go past two waterfalls.
So I mean, it’s just, I was very fortunate where I was raised. And I just always had an interest in working with animals. And so I went to Penn State and got a degree in biology and another degree in Recreation and Parks management. And I started working at Pittsburgh Zoo 96′-98′. And to be honest with you, my background was always reptiles. I was a “Herper” (Herpetologist), reptile and amphibian guy, and, you know, I was there working basically just a seasonal job and I was doing an internship in the reptile department. And really, when it comes to bats, I remember seeing bats as a child, and they had fascinated me, but honestly, I was more interested in in reptiles, you know, and amphibians. But I kind of wanted to further my career. I didn’t want to live in Pennsylvania anymore just because of the weather. I do not like cold weather. So that’s where I mentioned more weather comes in, and I had actually applied to quite a few places and then I happen to get a job here in Gainesville, Florida at Lubee Conservancy, and it was working with bats, which definitely interested me.But what I really wanted to do was get involved in conservation work, research, education. And they just happen to have that here. And, you know, I came down here, I was a keeper here 96 to 98. And I just fell in love working with the animals. And at the same time that I was here, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Disney was building the Animal Kingdom, and they were holding holding some of their animals here. So I got to be really good friends with a lot of the folks, I didn’t work with the Disney animals, but we work basically right alongside each other, you know, where their enclosures were ours where were, you know, just feet apart.
So I wanted to go into Disney. I moved down there with 27 bats from Lubee and I put them on loan. And I was at Disney for 10 years, and I did work with bats, but I worked tarantulas up to giraffes, and just everything in between and I had an opportunity to come back to Lubee in 2007. And I really knew it was a curator role, and I really knew that I was going to be more involved with conservation work, education, and obviously dealing with bats and then took that job and in 2011 became director. And we’ve really just kind of expanded our horizons when it comes to bat education, conservation, research, community engagement, awareness, media, fundraising. I mean, you know, talking to you right now, and, you know, my background was always reptiles. But I’ve been working back now for kind of going on, I think, twenty-four years. And I just find them extremely fascinating animals. And I was just down there, checking out some of the bats today and interacting with them. Because, you know, we work alongside them and it was just, it’s been a very rewarding career. I thoroughly enjoy what I do.
DFYB: Yeah, I can imagine that when I started looking in to, you know, I’ve always been interested in bats like we moved for similar reason from Northern Virginia to, you know, Southern North Carolina, for (from) the cold weather to be by the water. But there’s this bridge that has tons of bats by us and they’ve always interested me, but just having this read a little bit of your content or having listened to some of your interviews, there are a lot more fascinating than I had first, you know, given them credit for and I want to chat about that for sure. But yeah, let’s talk a little bit about Lubee like, so you said you’ve been with the organization since 2007, what kind of bat species have you seen in your tenure at Lubee, at any given point how many bats are there, how many species?
Brian Pope: Well, I mean, I can say that it Lubee’s peak, and this was probably in the early 2000s, there was about five to 600 bats here. And then over the years, we have loaned out some bats and really kind of focused on the species that are relevant to the work that we’re doing. And a lot of those bats went to zoos that are you know, Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited or certified relate facility so we don’t just they don’t just go into the pet trade or anything like that. We’ve only ever loaned bats to certified and accredited zoos, but really right now, we have 13 species of bats, we usually maintain about 200 individuals and I have seen usually, see Lubee’s history, and we were founded on July 31st 1989.
Our history has always been old fruit bats, flying foxes, and we have had some new world fruit bat species as well, but really over the past five to seven years, one of the significant changes and things that we’ve been doing is focusing on Native bats here in Florida and really kind of the United States southeast. And we started off it was really the parents that came here for educational programs. And they’re like, you know, that’s great that you’re teaching my kids about bats from you know, Australia and in Asia and Africa, but it would be great if you could teach them about bats in their own backyard. So we kind of started to change our education programs and incorporate a lot of information on Native bats. And then we wound up funding a project with the University of Florida on bats and it was like, why are we paying people to do these projects whenever we can just do them ourselves. So We got together with a local environmental consulting firm. They trained us on using acoustic technology. And we, ever since the past three or four years, we have worked all over the state. We’ve done many, many acoustic surveys, echolocation call analysis, we’ve gone through 35-40,000 calls.To identify species we do site surveys, and one of the big things is that we do bat house construction installation, and we just put up our 63rd house the other day, and we have a success story of about 90% occupancy. So to go back, cause I told you I was going to go off on tangents, but to go back in the kind of bats that we have here. A couple years ago, we had an opportunity. There was an organization that closed down up in Michigan, and we had an opportunity to take in some native bat species some insectivorous bats, and none of us have ever worked them. So we made sure that we had all the proper, anything from enclosures to their diet to any type of vitamin-mineral supplements. We talked to all the experts who have worked with these bats for years and the past two we’ve incorporated native back into our collection and they have been absolutely wonderful to work with.
I mean, I’ve worked a lot of animals that have we’re specifically talking bats it’s basically the old world fruit bats in the flying foxes. And the flying foxes are types of bats, but these are the bats that are in the genus of “turpis”. They consist of about 67 species and this are generally your larger species of bats, but flying foxes are a type of Old World fruit bat they’re just kind of the larger ones that in a specific genus, but but you’d asked about the type of bats. I mean, I’ve worked a lot of the insectivorous ones, the native ones were the first ones that we’ve ever had here at Lubee and just so much fun to work with.
We got a big outreach going on this Saturday, it’s First Magnitude brewery here in Gainesville, and we’re going to be bringing some of those native that’s down there. And it’s one thing that folks see, you know, some of the big fruit bats like I had no idea that could get that big and we we do bring a few of those individuals out, but for them to actually see bats that are flying around them, and I can tell you after doing a lot of call analysis and acoustic surveys, they’re everywhere you just don’t even know that they are around you because you can’t hear them, because you can’t hear their echolocation calls, and it’s dark out so you don’t see them out there. I find people are extremely fascinated whenever they see these bats and they’re very small bodies are only about an inch and a half, two inches long. And they have a chance of close to see the bats that live around them. So we’ve had a lot of different species over the years, but right now 13 species about 200 individuals and really enjoy all the ones we have. I have a fondness for the very largest species in the world the Malayan Flying Fox, we have about 65 of those guys, but I’m really enjoying these the native bats we have as well.
DFYB: And those Malayan fruit bats get like, what is it, five feet with a six foot wingspan or something?
Brian Pope: Yeah, they’re they’re absolutely enormous. And you know, we have a big festival every October. It’s our, our annual bat festival. And a lot of people that come here may have maybe you’ve never seen bats. So the main area where we house our animals, the first ones they see are this huge males. So you’ve got, you know, these big, you know, bats, five, six foot wingspans, and they’re sitting there looking at you know, people aren’t in with these bats, but they walk, you know, right, right past their enclosures, and they see them and they see these huge bats, they may be a little apprehensive, maybe a little intimidated. And all of a sudden they see these bats playing with each other and you know, interacting with each other and playing with toys, they love to take things apart.
They love all sorts of different types of fruits and vegetables in, in all these misconceptions just kind of drop right there. You have this bat he’s looking at you because it’s a myth that bats are blind, they can all see very well, you get this huge bat, you know, checking you out, and then he’s, you know, interacting with one of his, one of the other bats that he lives with, or they’re playing with toys, taking things apart. So for absolutely enormous animals to see them. But it’s also kind of cool to see, you know, a lot of these myths just basically dropped right then and there are a lot of these misconceptions because people are like okay, there are a lot cuter than I had anticipated.
DFYB: Yeah, absolutely, especially some of those fruit bats, those flying foxes.Brian Pope: Yeah, I mean, that’s that’s the one we have seven different species here of the of the flying foxes and I mean, people just absolutely get a lot of joy out of seeing them, but really to watch them interact with each other and see how playful they are, and last year, we have had a bunch of babies born because they are mammals, just like we are and people got to see, you know, the babies started to take, you know, starting to move a little bit further away from mom, but see the babies wrapped up in mom’s wings and nursing for mom interacting with each other.
So it just, you know, there’s still so many myths and misconceptions about bats. And that’s one of them is that they’re mammals, you know, are they mammals? Are they birds? Like no, they’re mammals just like us. Which is kind of neat is if you look at the whole evolutionary tree of mammals, okay. And people always think of bats as flying mice, flying rats, that sort of thing, [but] they’re nothing even closely related to rodents. On one side of the spectrum, you have primates, including humans and rodents and on the other side, you have animals like bats and pangolins, and carnivores, and bats are much more closely related to those animals than they are to humans and rodents. So it’s kind of neat to be able to see kind of the dichotomy of you know, there’s always been this misconception that they’re flying robots that actually say, no, they’re, they’re on this side of the spectrum, or as humans and rodents are on this side, which I kind of find interesting.
DFYB: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And that’s one thing I was curious about is, it seems like you have to spend a lot of time cleaning up misconceptions.
Brian Pope: Yeah, I mean, that’s the big thing is awareness campaigns, just letting folks know what they really are what what is a bat and you know, and you got to anthropomorphize most of them a little bit, and just to show them how playful they are, how they raise their young, how they interact with each other, how curious they are. And that’s what we do. We’ve been doing for 31 years. There’s a lot of education and awareness.
DFYB: Well one of the big misconceptions is that spread diseases? And yes, when I heard you talk about how not only do they not spread diseases, but they actually have antibodies for viruses, such as Ebola. That’s fascinating to me. Is there a way you can touch upon on that?
Brian Pope: Yeah, so I mean, it’s not to say that they’re not reservoirs for diseases. It’s just you know, what, what diseases that we’re talking about and what actually happens so they have never ever found a live Ebola virus in a bat. And that’s don’t just have certain diseases. If they get rabies, because they don’t just have rabies, if they get rabies. They get, they can die from it just like basically any other mammal and it’s a very, very short from the time they get rabies until they die, it’s within about 24 or 48 hours they don’t go through like this, you know, extremely aggressive stage you’ve seen a lot of like a raccoon or dog or cat or anything like that—fox, skunk, raccoon you know. They can get rabies, they die from it. But if you look at some other diseases out there like Ebola, there’s something in their immune systems.
They don’t get it, but if they do acquire this virus again, they’ve never found a live Ebola in a bat if they do get this virus there’s something in their immune systems that just eradicates this virus and then they’re free of it and then they have you know the antibodies antigens for this virus and they’re never affected again. And you know, with, I’ve got to touch on this the whole Corona virus thing right now, which they have not they have not found in a bat yet. But the problem is, the problem is never the bats, the problem is whenever you go into these, you keep cutting down these forests, and you’re getting into these areas where these animals are, where these diseases are, and you expose yourself to them or you go to these horrific wet markets where you have maybe the virus didn’t come from a bat, but you have bats and pangolins, that’s the new one I heard they think this virus might have come from, bats, pangolins, and snakes and chickens and they’re all being slaughtered live there and they’re extremely stressed and they’re shedding shedding viruses and diseases. That’s the main issue. Okay is whenever we are continuing to cut down forests and slaughter wildlife, and going into these wild places.
Now again, they have not had a direct link to coronavirus with bats, but if they do that that’s not the problem. And apparently these bats are not getting sick from it. So we have something to learn from. And that’s one of the things that Lubee does is we’ve worked with CDC, NIH, National Institutes of Health, the US Army Medical Research of Infectious Diseases, because they want to know what is in these bats immune systems that they do not get sick from these diseases. So what we’ll do is if a research project comes our way, we have a whole committee in okay’s these things, and we don’t do anything terminal, destructive or invasive. But if the Committee, which are our main vet at University of Florida is part of, I’m on the chair of that committee, if we approve these projects, we may take one of our bats, anesthetize that bat during its physical, withdraw a little bit of blood, wake the bat up, send it off, it’s fine, just like you’d get your blood check.And what they do is we’ll send the blood samples off and they are injecting the blood with some of these Biosafety Level 4 viruses that determine-and this is all, you know, geographic. So Ebola is an African species, you know, there’s another Nipah virus in Asia, so, but what is in their immune systems that are not getting sick. And I think that’s what makes Lubee really unique is we don’t do a lot of this research, just because we’re much more involved in conservation education, and obviously the care of our animals here. But what I find neat is Lubee is doing our part, to help find cures for some of the world’s deadliest diseases, and and I think that awareness is the big thing to say that, you know, these bats, these animals aren’t the enemy, they can help us find these cures, we’re actually going to go in and just completely obliterate them, destroy their habitats, because that would just make things a hell of a lot worse. Let’s learn about some of these animals. Are they the reservoirs for these? And if they are, what can we learn from their immune systems to be able to come up with vaccines for some of these diseases?
DFYB: Yeah, and that’s a that’s a really interesting point…I just spoke with with John Platt, he’s an environmental journalist who specializes in endangered species. So we talked a lot about species going extinct or potentially extinct. How are bats fairing? I mean, you touched upon that a little bit, but what is the, you know, population trend of bats across the species?
Brian Pope: I think it depends on what species you’re talking about. So we have big brown bats here that are doing quite well, the populations are stable. We have a species here, we actually have big brown bats at Lubee we also have a couple of evening bats, which they were injured and needed at home. And their range is expanding because diseases such as white-nose syndrome has killed so many bats in the United States so that some of these other bats are kind of taken advantage that the disease doesn’t early doesn’t really affect but I think it really goes down to if we’re looking at that, overall, their populations are declining rapidly. So in the United States, roughly 40% of our species are considered threatened with extinction and it’s been globally that number is 25%.
And there was recently just as of the 90s, a species that went extinct, was called the Christmas Island pipistrelle, and I tell this story all the time whenever I do lectures is and it’s all about, you know, how are we going to conserve species we’re going to conserve the ones that are charismatic and cute or are we going to conserve the ones that deserve it, that are literally on the brink of extinction and Christmas Island’s an island northwest of Australia, that’s or have those big red crab migrations. There is that the species there in the Australian government is, is in control of this island. And they had known that this species of bat was declining for years and years, and they really didn’t do too much about it. And I was in an international conference back in 2014. And there was a woman there who’s in charge of the Zoos Victoria in Australia, and she was the one telling the species, so the Australian government did some work in about like the mid-90s. And they saw that populations were going down and then they you know, going back every couple of years, and finally, they found one small population left.
And I want to say this is in the late 90s, they started to do some work to try to find the species to figure out what they could do. And they went back one more time. And they did some acoustic studies where they were able to hear and detect these medical echolocation calls. And they caught the echolocation, a call of one lone bat, doing a search call and looking for bats of it’s species. They never heard from again that she literally played this call she goes “that’s the sound of extinction”. So it was a very, very powerful thing. She’s like, “this is why we’re all here doing this work”, but they’re that they’re numbered numbers continue to go down, habitat destruction, fragmentation are some of the big things, over hunting is a big one, especially in an Asian…we’re seeing, you know, a potential issue right now, over in China that there is just no regulations on on hunting these bats, so the populations are decimated from over hunting for poaching, from habitat destruction.And then here in the United States, we have the disease white-nosed syndrome, which is a fungus that came from Europe, they first detected it in a cave in New York in 2006. And what that does, it doesn’t affect any other mammals, so humans are safe from it, bears, everything else is safe from it, but what it does is it affects, it’s a fungus that affects hibernating bat species, they go into hibernation. And essentially it wakes them up whenever they should be conserving their energy and hibernating and irritates their respiratory systems it irritates their wings, and what it does is that these bats just wake up whenever they should be sleeping, and they go out and they starve to death and they freeze to death, and since 2006, I believe that spread to 38 states and five Canadian provinces and killed an estimated 7 – 8 million bats. It’s absolutely devastating.
“They’re out there pollinating flowers, dispersing seeds, and they the economic and ecosystem benefits they provide humans on a daily basis is unmatched in the animal world, absolutely incredible, the human services that they provide day in and day out.”
So as a whole, bat species aren’t doing good, but there are some success stories out there on the people doing some great work, you know, funding from Lubee collaborations with other organizations. So there is good news out there. It’s not all just you know, doom and gloom, but unfortunately, as a whole, bat species are continuing decline, which is a shame. Because if you look at mammals as a whole, bats are some of the most important mammals to humans outside of, maybe mammals that people consume, bats are out there every night, not bothering anybody. They’re out there every night either, you know, eating insects, and controlling insect populations, and a lot of those are agricultural pests, or they’re out there pollinating flowers, dispersing seeds, and they the economic and ecosystem benefits they provide humans on a daily basis is unmatched in the animal world, absolutely incredible, the human services that they provide day in and day out.
DFYB: Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard that bats can eat up to 8000 insects a night and then they’re actually responsible for like pollinating agave, which is a key ingredient in tequila, is that right?
Brian Pope: Yeah, that is correct, they are one of the only pollinators for agave and a lot of cactus species in the southwest But I’m not a big tequila guy. Okay, but I do, I do enjoy my hoppy beers. And bats also eat a lot of agricultural pests that prey on hops and everything from corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe, that sort of thing. And bats are, there was a study done by the US Geological Survey, this is about eight, nine years ago. And that study showed that bats save farmers between 3.7 and 53—just in the US alone, 3.7 and $53 billion a year annually, by reducing the need for pesticides and by consuming so many agricultural pests, and a lot of those pests are on corn, cotton, soybeans and tomatoes, which are some of the biggest crops that come out of the United States, bats are out there every night, eating those insects in like I said, on a personal level, they’re also eating pests that consume hops as well.
“Bats save farmers between 3.7 and $53 billion a year annually,just in the US alone by reducing the need for pesticides and by consuming so many agricultural pests, and a lot of those pests are on corn, cotton, soybeans, and tomatoes.”
So they’re doing this every night, just going out and eating these insects and just the like I said before the ecosystem benefits they provide is absolutely incredible and then you have your, your fruit-eating species, which account for about 20% of all bat species, and every night they’re out there, dispersing seeds pollinating flowers, everything from agave to cactus to cashews, mangoes, bananas, you know, all sorts of just different crops that we depend on. And I believe the number of crops that rely on bats somehow which humans use is around 80 to 85 different varieties of different crops.
DFYB: So, so if you like hoppy beer, if you like tequila, if you don’t like getting bitten by mosquitoes, I mean seems like all the reasons in the world to you know, do our best to conserve the species.
Brian Pope: Pandas are cute, but if we’re going to put a value, if we have to put a value on mammals, they don’t really do too much for humans, although they are pretty damn cute. But the bats are out there every night doing this, you know eating insects, you know, dispersing seeds, pollinating flowers, and, uh, they don’t get a lot of credit for the services they provide human. So you know, you’ve got places like Lubee Bat Conservancy here to tell folks, you know why they’re important, why they matter, and why they’re some of the most important mammals to humans.
DFYB: And I want to touch upon something you said, you mentioned earlier, you have learned the cause of different species and subspecies of bats, even though you’re there an audible to humans? So you guys are setting up recorders out in the field and you’ve been able to decipher between two different calls?
Brian Pope: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. So we worked with that environmental farm at Normandeau and Associates here in Gainesville, I think they have offices nationwide. So yeah, they gave, they loaned us some of their equipment. And what we do is we set up these very, very detailed microphones, very intricate. And what these microphones do is we put them in like this big PVC case. And we connect that microphone to a computer box and we can program that box to like the time of day, everything from the time of day to the frequency, to you know what duration we want to record those calls.
And what I’ll do is after you know two to four nights, I’ll go back, and these are they have their own batteries, you know, so they’re all freestanding, all the batteries are charged up and we charge the box up as well, so I’ll go back and just download that information to a flash drive. I send off all the calls that gets downloaded to Normandeau server, that server cleans them up and then I get them sent back and I get like 20 calls in a night [or] I could get 2000-10,000 calls in a night and what they do is they send us like these 1.7 seconds blocks, okay and you see the call and what you’re looking for are search calls because if it’s if you got like a bunch of vertical lines in a row and then they stopped that means whatever bat that wasm most likely caught an insect.
DFYB: What do you mean a bunch of vertical lines in a row?
Brian Pope: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. It’s like you don’t literally if I’m looking at my monitor, alright and I see those those lines get from like a half inch down to you can’t even see them anymore as they progress across the screen, I know right though they caught an insect
DFYB: So they are not calling at that point?
Brian Pope: No. So that’s called what’s called a feeding buzz. But what you do, what you do look for are these individual like calls. So, you know, when at 1.7-second blocks usually get anywhere from maybe you know, two to five calls. And every one of those calls is, each bat species, it’s going to be at a different frequency, which I just move this cursor over it shows its frequency is, and they have a different shaped call. Now one of the most common we have, I believe, you guys have them up in North Carolina, they’re all in the southeast, Mexico, Central South America. They’re called free-tailed bats, Mexican or Brazilian, people use different names. Anyway, these free-tail bats, Tadarida brasiliensis is the scientific name. And their calls are usually these kind of like the straight line calls, but they got like a punch on the top of it, like on the beginning of it, and then they have a little tail on the bottom, usually about 17-27%. And it’s a very strong call. I know as soon as I see that it’s a Mexican free-tailed bat. And that’s whatever I recorded, and it’s wild to listen to these species, and know that there’s an entire world that surrounds us at night that we have no idea even exists.So it’s really cool to whenever we go out to do some of these surveys, just to find out like, what are we going to find? You know, and we’ve worked in Southwest Florida, looking for a critically endangered species called a Florida bonneted bat. And we think of endangered species, we think, you know, Asia, tigers, rhinos, elephants, that sort of thing. We have one of the world’s most endangered mammals living right here in Florida, South Florida’s called the Florida bonneted bat, maybe only a few hundred of them survive.
But what’s pretty wild was their echolocation calls are audible, I think we can get down to like 10 to 12 kilohertz, which humans can hear. So we’ve tweaked some of our sensors because these microphones get extremely sensitive. We’ve tweaked some of them look for the bats unfortunately didn’t find them, but, but we really find a lot of other species. I typically find about six to eight, whenever I do some of these recordings, and it’s just, it’s cool to see it and we just worked with a local elementary school here Bronson elementary and we were we were showing the kids how to identify species in this calls, and they were going through them and identifying them with us. So it’s pretty neat. It’s not like, it’s rocket science and you know, I’ve, I probably won’t be able to figure it out anyway. But something as simple as this, it’s pretty neat. Do it, give the report and, and, and be able to tell our clients like, “Hey, this is what you have on property”. And in doing so, we help them write environmental reports, some of these places such as cement plants are wildlife certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council, so we can help with that. And I tell you what we do our fieldwork on Fridays, and it’s great to get out of the office and away from the computer on Fridays, because I know we’re going out and we’re doing surveys, we’re monitoring bat houses and work with clients.
And one of the big things is, is putting up bat houses and we just put one up, we put up a four chambered bat house, holds about 300 400 baths at this brewery here in town called Swamp Head Brewery. And we did that 2017, and up until July of last year, there’s about three or 400 bats working, “working” I guess they are working, living in that house. Anyway, tree came down and took the house out. So all one maintenance guy, his name’s Tim Myrick, he knows how to build bat houses, we built a much bigger house using some of those chambers that were still intact. We went down there about a week, we put that house up on October 4. And we hadn’t seen anything in about a month, month and a half. Actually, I guess it probably be a couple months. We were down there a few weeks ago. And we saw a huge guano pile underneath his house. And my wife and I went back a few days later and watched emergence of about 2,500-3,000 bats just flooding out of this thing. So it’s pretty cool to see that you know, the work we’re doing.
And we’ve worked 19 countries in 30 plus years, but it’s nice to see some of the work we’re doing here, where we’re providing a home for bats, they’re providing you know, they’re eating insects, every night the clients happy the bats have a place to go. And it’s a lot of mitigation work to these bats aren’t buildings and apartments and things like that, they are living in the bat house. They’re not bothering anybody. They’re eating insects every night. When for Lubee when for the bats win for our customers, and it’s it’s pretty cool and we really enjoy our Florida bat programs in this aspect of what we’ve been doing lately.
DFYB: So earlier you mentioned there was like a 90% success rate with your bat houses, what does that mean? What’s the other 10%? Is it just location? Or do the bats not taking to the house for another reason?
Brian Pope: Yeah, I mean, so we don’t really know why some of them don’t go. I mean, it’s. So, you know, I’m a biologist, we had, I’ve been living in my current house for 10-11 years, I think. I’ve had a birdhouse up where I thought, I think isn’t a prime location. It’s never had a bird in it once, we’ve had lizards, flying squirrels. So it doesn’t matter where you put some of these houses, it’s all going to be if they want to if they want to live there. But one of the big things is, it’s the house that Tim makes in the location, you know, when we put these things, so the other houses don’t have bats. I just I don’t know why, bats are very picky but to have a nearly 90% success rate is ridiculous.And so we’ve been down here in Florida, what we do is we got to be an open area, that’s one of the main things you got to be within about a half a mile maximum of a water source. And you got to put the gotta be about 20 feet from a tree line cause you can’t put a bat house up on a tree, too many obstructions, too much shade. And way too many perches for hawks and a lot of rat snakes next to will climb a tree. So 20 feet from a tree line on a freestanding pole, 20 feet in the air facing southeast, and you still get sun pretty much throughout the year, and then stained a medium brown color. And then the way that, again, it’s just Tim’s building houses. I mean, it’s just working.
Now whenever I went to Penn State, I was an Environmental Center volunteer and there Shavers Creek Environmental Center up there that houses were stained black, usually on the side of the building and facing east because again, you’re in a much colder climate, you want that house to really retain the heat with the black stain with being on the side of the building. And in the summertime, you know, in the warmer months, I should say whenever the bats are living there, so you know, like spring summer in a little bit of fall. The sun’s going to be facing east you know what I mean? It’s not going to be further south in the winter because by the time that’s that sun it south, the bats are gone from the house, they’re hibernating in a cave, you know, so, your least in the southeast the house is facing southeast 20 feet high minimum 12, but 20 feet high, at least 20 feet from a clearing, you know, nearby water source and, and you’re good to go.
So we just literally got an email from a woman yesterday and we put up a bat house, a little town called Mount Dora about 45 minutes north of Orlando. And we put that up about a month I’m sorry, about a year and a half ago and she hadn’t had any bats but all of a sudden she was went back to her, they’re from the UK and she came back a couple weeks ago and guano everywhere bats everywhere. And it may take a while on average or that house to take about five to six months, sometimes a little longer, sometimes we’ve had bats within a couple weeks, but you know, to be able to have that kind of occupancy rate and to have you know, bats live in these houses is just fantastic. So it’s it’s a win across the board. And that’s what we try to do is whenever we do these projects, and we just got a grant to work out on an island called Bougainville, which is part of Papa New Guinea and these are the type of projects we do and we funded four conservation organizations—this has all been in the past week—four conservation organizations in Australia that are dealing with the wildlife affected by the bush fires, which is just horrific.
And then we just got this $30,000 grant to work in Papa New Guinea. And the way that we do our projects is you have to go out and you have to get the Natural History information on these animals to even start some of these projects, but they have to be long-lasting, you can’t just go and get the data and get published and just Alright, you know, wash your hands, you’re done. This project in Bougainville is really it’s going to be run by the Rotokas people, sorry, the Rotokas Ecotourism Group. So it’s going to have an animal in a conservation aspect. But if you really want these conservation programs to work, there’s got to be more involved. And we always say that animals are central to everything we do. But there’s so many other factors that are positively influenced by our conservation education programs. And we build schools in Madagascar. We’ve empowered women’s groups in Madagascar. We’ve created jobs here in Florida, jobs in Africa, over in the Solomon island.
So we’ve been working for, God five, six years, we have helped the people that are there talk to government officials, we’ve helped to protect forests for the first time that country’s history has protected land and land that’s not only important for the, for the animals, but they have cultural, spiritual economic significance for these people in Bougainville, it’s going to be about sustainable farming, creating livelihoods, creating jobs, community impact, community engagement, and biodiversity, not just bats, but bats and biodiversity conservation. And if you want to make these— and I’ve seen your bio too—you know, traveling in these places, if you’ve got to get the local people involved, but they’re not, you know, you gotta have a reason to have these projects be sustainable. You can’t just go in as Westerners go and get the information and then leave with nothing. You got it, you have to have community engagement, work with the children work with the women’s groups, working with some of these tribal leaders, these community leaders to have a reason and to keep these these projects sustaining. You know, and I think Lubee’s been able to do a fantastic job of that, we’ll get the funding and the times we travel over there but it’s like, okay, here’s the funding, you guys run it report back to us and what what do you need from us to make this project worthwhile? It’s gonna it’s gonna engage communities and conserve species.
DFYB: Yeah. And that’s such a key point is getting the community involved. So, speaking of Madagascar, a couple months ago, I spoke with Chris Duke of the Phoenix Conservancy Project, and he’s working in Madagascar right now, and the situation is as dire as you say. You know, there are there’s very little trees left but yet it also has, you know, some of the only populations of lemurs in the entire world.Brian Pope: We work with Madagascar Rotokas Ecotourism Group, which is a fantastic organization out there, run by Julie Hanta. She’s been married, so I believe that’s her last name anymore. But anyway, Julie Hanta was a director there, she does fantastic work. And that’s the thing is we’ll get the funding handed over, you guys run it and you know, working with some of her projects that has involved empowered women’s groups, sustainable agriculture. And the thing is a lot of the people in these areas, they’re hunting bats, which is you can’t go there and tell them not to. But you can work on sustainable hunting. And that that does tick a lot of people out when we say we work with hunters, but they don’t get it. poachers are the problems. Okay? hunters are the problem is how does one want these animals around so to work with some of these communities and in one project they saw about a 40% reduction in hunting and somebody I know, it was the conservation program involved. This was the women’s group empowering women’s groups community on sustainable agriculture, protecting these root sites. And they were still hunting these bats after a year but the population some of these areas of these that’s what a 40% because they weren’t killing these bats during maternity season. They were letting the pups grow up and they were still hunting and again, they’re going to hunt them. Okay, but with the communities that are there to ensure that these animals population still continue to decline until they’re locally extend and to work with them on a sustainable techniques to ensure that these animals that they some of them depend on, are there for their livelihoods going down the road. It’s a win across the board. It’s a win for the community, it’s a win for the animals in a lot of situations, it’s a win for the environment and the habitat. That’s the way you got to do these projects. It’s nice to go in and get the data but you can’t just do that anymore. You can’t.
DFYB: Yeah, and you’re exactly right. I mean, a lot of times, at least locally in the United States hunters are some of the most conservation minded people I’ve ever met. People who are doing it sustainably and who aren’t, you know, completely decimating the population or a sub population. Those are the ones that that you want on your side. You don’t want to just go ahead and say all hunting is bad. That’s not right. You know, poaching when it’s just for crazy monetary gain, yeah, you can say that. That’s, that’s a different category.
Brian Pope: Mmm hmm. Years ago, we’ve worked in worked in and funded projects over in Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands and excuse me, I think was back in 2008 or nine, I’ve just kind of joined the Lubee and the director of time was pretty involved. But I’d also got involved with some, some aspects of that project is these poachers went into this area, there was an endemic species over there. And there was one species the Guam flying fox had already been eaten literally to extinction. There was another one that was getting pretty hit pretty hard in the Northern Marianas Islands called the Marianas flying fox. There’s about 5000 of them left. And I believe this is correct, they went into a maternity colony. And over the course of two weeks, poachers, over the course of two weeks, killed 500 of them. And this is a 10th of the population in weeks. I can’t imagine like a 10th of the tiger population gone into two weeks in the global outcry, but these are bats you know, it’s why you need these educational awareness campaigns.
But anyway, we work with a local hundreds that were there because these weren’t just the local people, they were killing bats and sending them off to other islands and just making a buck. We work with local hunters and because of working with them, and with Disney’s funding, I’m sorry, we got a grant from Disney, but then also Lubee some money, joint collaborative project, with all these entities getting involved, that led to the first prosecution in that country of a poacher and they got hit pretty damn hard on that one. So it’s a nice, again, nice collaboration with Disney, Lubee funding it as well. And then working with the people that are over there communities and the hunters, that lead in the prosecution of these people because it’s just horrible. And I want to say since and the populations in relatively stable.
DFYB: Wow. Yeah, that’s an interesting point because we just got back from.. my wife and I just got back from our honeymoon in Uganda, it was incredible. We got to see the mountain gorillas, we got to see a whole lot while we’re there, but one of the most interesting things was seen signs that Disney actually does, Disney provides a lot of funding for conservation efforts, which I would not have known about.
Brian Pope: Oh, very much so and you know, that was one of the cool things is I worked there for 10 years. And I worked with the animals I was there (Disney). I didn’t get involved too much with any conservation anything but I very, very proud of the time that I worked there, because my wife worked there as well. Not only is it just a top-notch zoological facility, even though it’s a theme park, but if we’re looking at it just from the animals, not only is it one of the best in the world for what they do when it comes to conservation funding is absolutely incredible. It’s on a scale that I don’t think any other accredited certified related facility zoo is doing. So it’s cool that you guys saw firsthand just the, you know, the I don’t want to say the power they have but just what they do to encompass conservation projects, their reach there, you know, how they can expand and do these projects. They’re working with some of the top people in the field when it comes to anything from from mountain gorillas to, they funded Lubee projects, you know, bat projects and you know, it’s I thoroughly enjoyed working for the company.
Again, not only for what they do with the animals but their global reach, I don’t want to say power, but global reach when it comes to to their conservation programs and You know, and I’ve written some grants for Disney didn’t get them because they’re so difficult because they want you to to really incorporate not just the conservation aspect, but the education, community engagement and research aspects. So I mean, they’re not easy grants to get, we had got some because they’re so specific on what they want because all of these things come together. That’s like I was saying animals are central, but there’s so many other factors that are that are influenced by this conservation, because there have to be- kids, communities, research, make these conservation programs long lasting and I think for 31 years, you know, Lubee we just, I just had up this the other day. So with what we just funded in Bougainville in with, with Australia, we’re now at 188 projects that will be funded in 31 years. If you look at how you know we first started and how we’ve evolved with funding. I’m just very, very proud extremely proud of the work that we’ve been doing for over three decades. We have a good relationship with Disney as well and a lot of other people we collaborate with, and it’s just it’s a very rewarding job.
DFYB: Yeah, I mean, so you’ve talked a lot about how Lubee, you know, helps other organizations, but how can people, wherever they’re from, how can people help Lubee?
Brian Pope: Well, the main thing is just kind of see what we’ve got going on and to do so, we’re on our Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, we have our own YouTube channel. And then they can check out our website, which is Lubee.org. And they can find out everything about our animals, to organization, to the projects we’re involved in, there’s a lot of educational resources there for for parents and teachers and just anybody, but the main thing people want to do if they want to get involved this, you know, we’re a small nonprofit organization with a limited budget, and they can donate and those donations go everything to taking care of our 200 plus bats here to helping us to support you know, some of the projects we just funded.
And one of the other cool things too is if you go to Explore.org and there’s links on our website Lubee.org. There are live cameras to watch our bats. So we have two cameras and two of our enclosures and people can watch these bats live 24/7, 365 days a year. We also go in there, they get to see the bats playing with each other playing with all these toys, they love. things that make noise, take things apart. We also give presentations there. There’s a lot of ways that people can get involved. Again, our Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook is very, very active. There’s good things on there all the time, check out our website, check out the Explore.org cameras. But if people want to donate, they can do that on a website. And that goes to literally everything from general operating funds, animal care, and also supporting our our conservation programs. And we always appreciate the support. We couldn’t be doing this for 31 years if it wasn’t for the support and the generosity of the people out there. I mean, the people that that have been keeping us going for 31 years and we’re always looking for some new friends if people want to do that, and donate to really go to our website for more information.
DFYB: Nice. Yeah. And in turn, I mean, you’re helping, you’re helping everyone you know if you don’t like tequila, or hoppy beer or if you like to get bit by insects man, I don’t want to know you for God’s sake. Let’s try to save these bats as much as possible.
Brian Pope: I mean, I can understand I like him tequila but uh. It’s never been my thing but a lot of people do a lot of people do on a global scale and bats are the only ones out there pollinating the agave plants and flowers and, and that’s how we get tequilia.
DFYB: So wild. I do want to talk real quick because you brought this up a couple times of how they like to take things apart. They and that’s because their, their wings are really hands right hands with thin membranes of skin between the fingers.
Brian Pope: Yeah, that’s correct. So if you look at a bat, if you look at their morphology, so if we’re looking at a bat skeleton, I mean, they they look very primate like although we as we talked about before, we know that they’re not. They got 10 fingers and 10 toes. So they don’t really have behinds us they don’t really have butts, they have very kind of smaller legs in comparison with body and they, again are mammals and don’t have hollow bones. But they have 10, 10 toes. And if you look at them, it looks like their knees bent backwards, but it’s not. It’s like if you took your right knee and kind of started to move it to your side, their hips kind of turn their legs into the enables them to kind of crawl upside down. But their wings are literally just hands like we have.
So their upper arms are in proportion to the rest of their body, but their forearms are huge and their fingers are huge. And they have a sheet of skin that goes from the base of the thumb to the shoulder. They have skin that goes in between the fingers, and then they have a large sheet of skin and all the skin is called the patagium that goes from the base of the pinky down to the ankle. And so literally, it’s their whole arm is encased in skin and that’s what enables them to fly and bats are the only mammals capable of flight, for them to be able to take things apart, the only appendage they don’t have in their wings. It’s not. It is free, I guess you could say it’s their thumb. So whenever they crawl around and people could see this again, they go to the explorer.org and check out the cameras they’ll be able to see our back moving around, flying, interacting. They use their, their toes to be able to hang on. And they also use their thumbs to move around. So when they take things apart, they’re using their thumbs, they can bend their foot up and do that, or they, you know, they have their mouths as well.
And by the way, I should say this, why do bats hang upside down, is to take flight. So they can’t, they can’t, you know, just go to the ground and you know, run or anything, they cannot walk, they just don’t have the morphology for it. So whenever they’re hanging upside down, all they have to do is look around and see where they want to go. We also we already talked about bats aren’t blind, and then they just let go and take off. So the reason they hang upside down is to take flight. And I should say this when I first started working with bats, back in ’96, there was 920 known species of bats. As of right now there’s 1,406, so they found almost 500 species of bats, and you know, almost two and a half decades. You can split those up into about 1,200 species or what’s considered your microbes. 200 of those are your megabats, so your old world fruit bats. For the most part with the exception of a couple species, your megabats do not echolocate.
All of your micro bats do echolocate, micro bats are, you know what we have here in the States. And whether they echolocate or not, it doesn’t matter, they can all see very, very well. The reason they echolocate is just a lot easier means of getting around at night and hunting insects down or some species eat frogs, some species of fish, so echolocation helps with that the ones that don’t echolocate for the most part of fruit eaters, and their food’s not really going anywhere. But the objective of the bat’s wing. I mean, all it is, is just a large hand and that’s it. People will have a hard time like, what is this claw? What am I seeing? What is this literally 10 fingers 10 toes, just like humans do.
DFYB: Wow, interesting. So they don’t all echolocate, but then also they’re not. I remember reading that they’re not all nocturnal. And they can see, I mean, there’s a lot of myths to, there’s a lot of myths to dispel.
Brian Pope: Yeah, I mean, it’s when it comes to our activity pattern. The majority of them are nocturnal. Some like the ones we have here in some of the old world fruit bats are crepuscular, and there’s also species I believe it’s the Samoan flying fox, it’s either the Samoan or Tongan, but I think it’s a Samoan flying fox, which is active during the day, no natural predators. And what’s wild is you’ll see them riding these thermals on some of these islands, which is just very, very cool. So yeah, I mean, it’s, again, depends on the bat species. And, you know, for the most part, they are nocturnal. But again, some are crepuscular and even one or two species are diurnal during the day.
DFYB: Wow. Yeah, and crepuscular dawn and dusk task, right?
Brian Pope: Yeah. Isn’t that good? mornings and evenings, correct? Yep.
DFYB: Nice. And so when they use their their hands to..oexcuse me, so when bats are flying, do they use their hands at all to help with their flight and help with direction and altitude?
Brian Pope: Yeah, so that’s exactly what they’re using is their wings to be able to fly. So we did a study with the US Air Force. It was funded by the Air Force through Brown University. When they came to Lubee, and we had these flight corridors where it’s we were taking some of our bats and flying them down there. And when they got to the other end, they get a grape or a piece of cantaloupe or something. So they didn’t seem to mind. What they were doing was they were just filming underneath, like, how are these bats flying. And what they wanted to do is, you know, look at creating drones because if you think of an insect or a bird or anything like that, anything that’s manmade planes, whatever, everything is that fixed wing, okay, they can’t really rotate them too much. Well, a bat’s wing is it’s hand, so they have all the same joints we do, and what they what they found is they get a lot of their thrust from that patagium or that skin that’s between their pinky and their ankle, but they get their dexterity and their maneuverability from their fingers and it’s resting.
If the bat’s just resting with it’s, you know, fingers fold behind them to fully extend it while they’re flying, it can stretch it out 400 by 400%. And if people ask about what is their what is their wings feel like? It feels like your eyelids, I mean, it’s just, it’s a very unique biological material, it’s skin that it has all kinds elastic fibers in all these blood vessels and everything. But for the most part, it just feels like your eyelids, very soft, very pliable, they can get holes in there and they’re wings just like we have, you know, you get cut. So it’s the same thing, but they have extremely fast regeneration, their wings, so that the holes in their wing if they’re severe won’t effect the flight, they’ll heal up very, very quickly. This goes all the way back what you’re doing, I was talking about earlier, their immune systems are very, very unique and very efficient. And a lot more work needs to be done to find out what what is in, you know, what is in their immune systems that is, you know, enables these bats to not get sick from some of these diseases, to heal regenerate their wings so quickly. If they were to get holes, they’re just absolutely fascinating animals and I think we just kind of hit the tip of the iceberg on how wonderful and unique they really are.
DFYB: Wow, yeah, that’s incredible. There’s so much it sounds like there’s so much to learn from them, whether it’s how are they actually flying versus you know, how are they essentially disease resistant to a lot of these threats that will take people down? That’s incredible. That’s that you are doing such incredible work both you and Lubee. And I know you’re super busy. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. This has been super fascinating. Yeah, I wish you continued success in everything that you guys are doing. Keep fighting the good fight. I mean, this is, you know, whether it’s dispelling myths or hopefully, you know, improving some of these populations that might be on the decrease. I think this is very important work, so thank you so much, Brian.
Brian Pope: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about Lubee and the work we’re doing with bats in general, it’s, I always appreciate talking to folks who, who enjoy wildlife and these type of conservat-conversations. So again, definitely appreciate the opportunity.
DFYB: There it is again, that, that conservation/conversation mixup…
Brian Pope: One last thing that again, if folks want to learn about Lubee, check us out on social media, Facebook, Instagram, or check out our website Lubee.org they can find out about our bats organization and also donated support some of our efforts.
DFYB: Absolutely, absolutely. And I will link to those in the podcast itself and also on the blog.
Brian Pope: I appreciate that again.