Thursday 31 October 2019

Nils Bouillard - BIG BAT YEAR

Nils Bouillard's passion for bats started in the summer of 2013, when he had his first close-up encounter with a bat, a Grey Long-eared Bat (Plecotus austriacus), near Chimay, in Belgium. That first sighting ended up the Big Bat year (365 days, 195 countries, 1400 species of bats). You can findout more here:  Nils did an interview with the Bat Conservastion Trust:

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(c) Nils Bouillard
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  • Can you remember the first time you spotted a bat? How did that moment make you feel?
I actually remember the time I first saw a bat up close quite vividly. I had seen them flying around the house before but seeing one up close was a completely different experience! It was a Grey Long-eared as well. I imagine that's not many people's first bat, especially not in the UK! It immediately made me want to learn more about those creatures I thought were cute and interesting. Reading about them added fascinating and captivating to the list of adjectives I use to describe them.
  • What inspired you to do the Big Bat Year?
As a birdwatcher, I knew of the concept. I followed closely the Big Year done by Arjan Dwarshuis (Dutch) and Noah Strycker (American) before him. One thing I love about the bat community is the absence of competitiveness, it's all about the bats, not lists. Naturally, the only legitimate thing to do was to pursue a list! More seriously, global big years are much more than ticking species of a list. They're popular, including in mainstream media. Everyone understands collecting, be it stamps or bird sightings, most people can relate. And that makes this a great way to raise awareness on conservation in a different way.

  • What advice would you offer to someone following in your footsteps?

Don't do it, it's crazy? No… That's not true. Well, it is crazy but more people should do it. Bat research is still an obscure field to many and often, it's the only way in to connect with bats and that's a shame. Bat tourism opportunities are many out there and it is a great way to protect bats by providing significant funding. The Painted Bat village in Thailand is a great example, the community earns money from showing those amazing bats to people.

My main advice to someone wanting to set on another Big Bat Year would be to focus on people. Finding bats on my own was extremely challenging and I was able to enjoy my time much more, and see many more bats when I had help.

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(c) Nils Bouillard
  • What were the highs and the lows of the Big Bat Year?  Could you pick one moment that stood out above all the others?
The lows are definitely the times when I'm alone, struggling to find bats. Those times were definitely challenging. The highs would be the exact opposite of those actually, times when I was in great company. That happened very often actually, bat people are great and I've only met people really keen to help me in my quest.

It's very hard to pick one moment out of the hundreds I've had this year… If I had to pick one though it'd be when I realised I had discovered a new species. It was my dream as a child and despite the fact it took me three or four days to fully appreciate what was going on, it's definitely a highlight this year!
  • In your opinion , what are the main threats to bat conservation?
I think bat conservation would be a lot more effective if foreign researchers always worked hand in hand with the locals, training them. Often, that's not the case and the knowledge ends up disconnected geographically from the study species and that's a shame. We could also work on the image we give of bat research and conservation. It's not an obscure and inaccessible science. It's actually to involve people in bat-related citizen science projects and there should be more of those.

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(c) Nils Bouillard
  • How can we inspire more people to appreciate bats?
Citizen science. People often need to be involved to understand and that's especially true for science. Talking about bats and the threats they are facing is great but if people don't get to connect with the species, it's hard to get them to actually do something.

Another way to help people connect with fast-flying, cryptic-looking, night-living animals is photography. Showing the bats up close, in their environment, looking cute and everything is the best way to inspire people because we can't realistically show living bats to everyone…
  • We know it’s not a fair question but do you have a favourite bat species?
I have lots… I really can't pick one… Best I can do is pick one (or two) per family! It's a start..I guess…

My favourites would be the Yellow-winged bat (Lavia frons), the Long-eared bats (Plecotus spp.), the sucker-footed bats (Myzopoda spp.). I would have listed the species I discovered, had it been formally described already!

Take a look at the BigBatYear website and on Facebook/Instagram @nilsbouillard

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