Regardless, efforts are being made to improve guano mining. “There is some cases where we are trying to work with cave owners on guano mining,” said Waldien. “But, in general, there are areas we are just emerging into." Bracken Cave in Texas is home to the world’s largest Mexican free-tailed bat colony and is owned by BCI. All guano mining there has stopped. “Now BCI is trying to engage in guano mining companies,” said Waldien. “From those that are identifying caves and harvesting it to the wholesale and retail outlets, to develop a more bat-friendly approach to this.”
One way for bat guano to remain a renewable resource may be through purchasing it from reputable sources. “I would really discourage people from going on Craigslist and buying it there,” said Kocer. “At least if you’re going through [reputable] companies, they’ve been doing it, they’ve got caves. They’re probably not in the northeast.” One company who has been in the guano business for over 25 years is Sunleaves. “We purchase our guano by the container,” said Tony Bayt, distribution manager at Sunleaves, in an e-mail. “It's mined and screened in an ecologically-conscious manner by licensed mining companies and shipped to us in bulk.” Sunleaves receives their guano from all around the world. Due to proprietary issues, the cave locations are kept private. “Our supply chains have remained open and we've been in the position to fulfill our customers' needs,” said Bayt. And organic gardeners do need their share of guano. Granular forms of bat guano can be purchased in 125 pound and 375 pound, 55 gallon barrels, according to Bayt.
Other than the risk factors of inappropriate guano mining, bat guano alone may pose potential risks to miners or gardeners. One fungal pathogen bats are known to transmit is Histoplasma capsulatum, which causes histoplasmosis in humans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People get histoplasmosis from breathing in fungal spores and while some people may not get sick, other people may experience pneumonia-like effects. “All of our production clerks are respirator-certified to handle the guano,” said Bayt. “We have never had such an occurrence in our company history.”
Another way to get guano can be directly from local bats using sustainable and renewable harvesting techniques. “If you have your own colony, you’re not going to risk spreading anything to a new site because those bats are already there,” said Kocer. “The use of a bat house and your local bats for your fertilizing or garden is a brilliant idea and I think that’s what should be happening.”
O’ Tapong commune, located in Cambodia, has built bat habitats to attract local colonies to their rice fields. The illegal bat hunting in those areas have resulted in a decrease in local bats. Farmers began noticing a decline in their rice harvests along with an increase in insects which motivated some of them to start attracting local bat colonies, or bat farming, as they call it, according to the Community Based Natural Resource Management Learning Institute. “They’ve attracted enough bats that they’re able to harvest the guano beneath the trees and use it for local purposes,” said Waldien. “And sell it.” In O’ Tapong commune, 95 percent of the less than 16,000 people are farmers. In the United States, less than 1 percent of the 313,000,000 people are farmers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Now with that in mind,” said Waldien, “to my knowledge, there is no evidence of any place in the world that has a sustainable, renewable approach to guano mining.” And with stories like Dracula and Cujo, not many people will be getting over the fear of bats any time soon.
“I always encourage bat houses when people are interested in putting them up,” said Kocer. In areas of the northeast where bat populations have decreased due to WNS it is easier to attract bats into bat houses. Since they hibernate in caves and mines during the winter, they search for places to live in the summer when they are active and raising pups, according to Kocer. And as for neighbors? “I wouldn’t be concerned about my neighbor putting up a bat house,” said Kocer. “They’re not these rodent pests that are going to chew through things.” If anything, talking to the neighbor about putting up a bat house becomes an opportunity to educate them about the valuable resources bats provide. For people to get over their fear of bats, they must first get over any misconceptions they may be holding onto. For one, “they don’t really want to be in your house,” said Kocer. Also, “people think they’re like rodents and have lots of young every year, but that’s not the case. They’re very slow reproducing.”
Misconceptions About Bats
The two biggest misconceptions about bats may revolve around rabies and vampires. Simply put, most bats do not have rabies. If a bat did have rabies it would die fast. A dog, on the other hand, would live longer with rabies. (And perhaps torment its own family.) Fortunately, less than half of 1 percent of bats carry rabies, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). And they only bite in self-defense. Vampire bats do not live in the United States or in Canada. Recent discoveries in science have even found vampire bat saliva beneficial in preventing heart attacks in humans because it can prevent blood from clotting, according to the USDA’s Forest Service (FS). Feel free to be free of fear.
“Every horror film we ever watched shows some sort of scene with bats flying in your face, or bats flying around making it eery,” said Kocer. “It’s difficult to get people to understand that bats really aren’t scary. They’re small little critters that are actually kind-of cute if you take a look at them and they’re not interested in sucking your blood.”
Maybe Stephen King’s next book will be about a self-sustaining farmer suffering from aspergers and his telepathic on-site bat colony. The community fears the bat colonies and hates the farmer for being an outcast. The community is plotting ways to kill the farmer and his bats so they can return the land to the community and make it “beautiful again”. Suddenly, gas runs dry, the economy collapses, and the community is faced with a bigger problem – starvation. But not the farmer.
As the starving community members prepare to risk everything for the farmer’s food, the self-sustained farmer is prepared to defend what’s his - at all costs. However, the telepathic bat colony has a different plan. They are going to save the farmer, his land and all surviving community members.
For more information on bats visit BCI’s website or WhiteNoseSyndrome.org. Or build a bat house.