Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: Merlin Tuttle, Finding the Way to Unseen Beauty

How many people could, let alone would, answer the following ad? Wanted: Bat Scientist/Conservation Advocate. The successful candidate must be willing to travel to all hemispheres, hack through primeval tropical forests, swim piranha-infested waters, wriggle down dark narrow caves filled with scorpions and deadly gasses, and dangle from a precipice to elude a tiger. Additional qualifications: will become a self-taught world-class animal photographer. This position also requires public speaking. All for the sake of the despised and maligned species, the bat.

Looks like we got only one application. Fortunately that applicant turned out to be Dr. Merlin Tuttle. Tuttle adopted bats as his cause when others thought of them as too plain creepy to save. He knew bats play a vital role in the ecosystem, eating mosquitoes, crickets, scorpions and other insects by the millions. They pollinate many species of tropical jungle plants and are a crucial component of critical habitat. So they don't make honey, big deal. They compensate for that in high-value guano alone.

So how to get around that creepy-Dracula-tangled-in-my-hair-and-gave-me-rabies problem? Tuttle hit on the solution of rehabilitating the species image literally, through imagery. He taught himself to be a first-rate animal photographer, rebranding bats from flying rat to flying puppies, the farmer's friend, and the dearest little winged creature this side of Tweety Bird. Then he went out and sold it the world over, making personal appearances showing his slides and bringing along his pet bat Zuni to be stroked and adored. He also founded Bat Conservation International to amplify and sustain the message.

Bats remain threatened the world over by disease and human stupidity. But their chances have been improved through the imagination and daring of Merlin Tuttle.

1 comment:

  1. I thought you only featured musicians. Thank you for this excellent piece on Merlin Tuttle, Peter. I'm glad you mentioned Bat Conseevation International. I think some of my most thrilling moments in my life have involved pulling bats out of mist nets and seeing them face to face.