Bats have been much in the news of late because they harbor a range of viruses similar in type to the one now ravaging human populations. In this important video, Dr. Winifred Frick, Chief Scientist for Bat Conservation International (BCI), discusses the links between bats and disease, explains why bats are not at fault in the current crisis and underscores the importance of conserving wild bat populations.
The BAND Foundation has supported bat conservation and BCI for many years. We have funded efforts to better understand and halt the spread of a deadly fungal pathogen that has decimated U.S. bat populations and most recently have provided a grant to help conserve one of the world’s rarest bats, the Mexican long-nosed, through a partnership aimed at restoring agaves – the bats’ primary food source and a hugely important plant culturally and economically to local communities throughout central and northern Mexico.
Bats play a critical and beneficial role globally, particularly in regards to agriculture. Insectivorous species eat enormous quantities of insect pests, thereby limiting crop damage and reducing the need for costly and environmentally damaging pesticides. They are also essential as pollinators and seed dispersers, especially in the tropics. Beyond the direct benefits they provide, bats are an exquisite and diverse family of animals with over 1,300 species that have evolved over tens of millions of years to fill a wide range of ecological niches.
This series, which will run for the next several months, will focus on a deadly pathogen, known commonly as Bsal, which has devastated salamander populations in Europe and threatens to do the same here in the United States. The show is hosted by Mike DiGirolamo, a journalist and actor living in Tennessee.
The U.S. is the global epicenter of salamander diversity. One of the most abundant creatures in America’s forests – especially along the Appalachian spine – salamanders are essential to the food chain and to overall forest health. They come in a wonder of sizes, shapes and colors and are a defining, if little noticed, feature of our native landscapes.
In addition to funding Mongabay’s reporting, BAND has supported critical research on Bsal to try to better understand how the pathogen spreads and what steps can be taken to prevent its introduction to the U.S. and respond rapidly should those steps fail.
Epilepsy is a complex disease with significant and underappreciated global health impacts. The epilepsy challenge is especially acute in Africa where lack of access to routine treatment and cultural stigmas are systemic problems. The BAND Foundation is working to tackle epilepsy in Africa through a series of grants aimed at raising awareness and demonstrating solutions. In this episode of Seizing Life – a weekly podcast produced by Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) – BAND Foundation trustee and former CURE Board Chair Gardiner Lapham discusses BAND’s efforts.
Living on the landscape with lions and other large predators can impose significant costs on local communities. When lions prey on livestock, people sometimes retaliate by killing lions. Human/wildlife conflict is one of the leading factors contributing to the 50% decline in lion populations across Africa over the past two decades.
The Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), a BAND Foundation grantee, works with local communities around Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park – a lion stronghold – to build support for lion conservation, including by promoting practices that mitigate livestock losses to predators and by providing financial benefits to villages that maintain healthy wildlife populations on their land. Four RCP staff have recently been recognized by a WildAid campaign featuring the men and women working on the front lines across Africa to protect lions. In addition to the video above, you can learn about RCP’s other “unsung heroes” here and here.
When most people think of American grasslands, they imagine the vast open prairies of the Great Plains. Few recognize that some of the most varied and important grassland habitat actually occurred in the Southeast. Contrary to popular lore, the Southeast was not an unbroken forest stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River. Rather it included a stunning and biodiverse mosaic of grassland types, including savannas, balds, glades, fens, marshes, bogs and even prairie.
These Southeast grasslands have lost nearly 90% of their original extent. Conserving and restoring what remains is the mission of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative, a BAND grantee. Grasslands are one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems yet are often overlooked as a critical reservoir of biodiversity, a vital carbon sink and an essential resource for local and indigenous communities. BAND also supports grasslands conservation in Kenya, Tanzania and Mongolia.
The Maasai Mara ecosystem is one of the world’s most important conservation landscapes. It is also home to the Maasai people whose pastoralist traditions have allowed wildlife to coexist with humans and livestock for centuries. Today, this ecosystem is severely threatened by expanding agricultural production; by subdivision and fencing; and by increasingly unpredictable climate patterns. A key solution is the development of wildlife conservancies.
Conservancies consist of hundreds of individually owned parcels of land pooled together and leased out to tourism operators. Landowners receive direct payments for renting their land while retaining the right to graze their livestock. As such, conservancies provide a unique platform for unlocking economic value for local communities. Likewise, conservancies offer tremendous hope for maintaining and restoring critical habitat outside of national protected areas, many of which are simply too small or isolated to provide a sustainable future for wildlife.
The Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association is the umbrella organization for the Mara’s 15 wildlife conservancies and an important recipient of BAND Foundation support.
Video Highlights How Community-Managed Wildlife Areas In Tanzania Serve as Grass Banks for Local Communities
Grazing is the lifeblood of Maasai culture in northern Tanzania, and its currency is grass. Population pressure, agricultural expansion, infrastructure development and land subdivision are placing enormous pressure on savanna grassland resources in this landscape. Likewise, these same threats are endangering the region’s wildlife, which require access to community lands as critical migratory corridors and dispersal areas linked to their strongholds in iconic national parks like Tarangire and Lake Manyara.
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are communal lands, frequently bordering national parks, that serve as grass banks for both livestock and wildlife. With BAND Foundation support, Honeyguide is working to ensure that these areas fulfill their promise to benefit both people and nature.
Media coverage of the biodiversity crisis too frequently lends itself to apocalyptic headlines and a sense of hopelessness. In turn, this can cause people to tune out and feel as though nothing can be done to stem nature’s decline. It also shortchanges the countless individuals and institutions successfully working to save species, restore ecosystems and pioneer new conservation models.
BioGraphic – a free, nonprofit, independent, online journal powered by the California Academy of Sciences – delivers high-quality scientific reporting on the most promising conservation solutions from around the world. The BAND Foundation provides funding to bioGraphic to enable expanded coverage and increased reach.
The climate crisis is magnifying the ecological stresses affecting the world’s natural landscapes and biodiversity, forcing the development of new conservation models that promote resilience and allow for adaption. Acadia National Park, one of the crown jewels of America’s national parks system, is implementing a partnership-based, whole-watershed approach to respond to this challenge. This work is featured in the inaugural edition of Parks Stewardship Forum, a new journal dedicated to the stewardship of parks, protected areas, cultural sites and other forms of place-based conservation. As the paper’s authors note:
“Over the past five years, park staff and partners have begun taking an interdisciplinary, partnership-based approach to assessing baseline conditions, identifying stresses, developing climate change scenarios, and restoring the ecological and cultural integrity and resilience of whole watersheds… We recognized that the ‘stovepiped’ and project-based structure of park resource management – in which different disciplines such as wildlife, vegetation, and water functioned more or less independently and focused on individual projects rather than more holistic and forward-looking goals – was not adequate in a rapidly changing environment.”
Funded in part through a BAND Foundation grant to Friends of Acadia, (the park’s non-profit partner), this innovative public/private partnership also involves key stakeholders from the local community, including the Town of Bar Harbor, College of the Atlantic and others.
Several years ago, a mysterious disease started to appear in sea stars all along the Pacific coast of North America, rapidly and simultaneously decimating well-known species such as the sunflower and ochre stars. Sea stars are keystone predators vital to the health and productivity of intertidal zones. The affliction, known as sea star wasting disease (SSWD), can kill an otherwise healthy sea star in a matter of days, ultimately by causing the animal’s body structure to break down and collapse.
SSWD is one of a number of emergent diseases wreaking havoc on wildlife globally yet generating relatively little public attention and concern. Partly this is because many of the species most severely impacted – including amphibians, reptiles, freshwater mussels and bats – are frequently overlooked despite the essential ecological roles they play. Additionally, while there are clear policy and funding frameworks to address the detection, treatment and prevention of diseases that directly affect people and livestock, little corresponding infrastructure exists for wildlife disease. This is particularly problematic given the speed with which many of these pathogens are spreading.
The growing wildlife disease threat has primarily human origins. The global movement of people and goods, including the wild animal trade (both legal and illegal), facilitates the spread of disease across countries and continents while the climate crisis is allowing diseases to emerge and thrive where they previously could not.
Funding is urgently required to address this growing problem. Needs include critical scientific research on known diseases; the capacity to better predict, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks; the ability to educate the public on steps people can take to reduce disease spread; and key policy changes to help prevent the movement of disease across borders.
The BAND Foundation has funded projects targeting particular diseases (including SSWD, white-nose syndrome in bats and another deadly fungal pathogen in salamanders) while highlighting the broader threat wildlife disease poses to biodiversity and human well-being. Most recently, we supported PRIMED – Primary Responders in Marine Emergent Diseases – a collaborative monitoring and response network on the Pacific coast.