Bat conservation group founder Tuttle still has passion for bats


Merlin Tuttle has made news numerous times, including in 2009, when he decided it was time to move on from Bat Conservation International, which he founded in Milwaukee in the early 1980s before moving himself and the organization to Austin a few years later.

“I thought it had a lot of bats and a lot of media with nothing better to do than talk about bats,” Tuttle said of his adopted home.

Those were the days, you may or may not recall, when some work on the underside of what was then called the Congress Avenue bridge made for a cozy nesting place for up to some 1.5 million Mexican (now called Brazilian) free-tailed bats, freaking out a population that didn’t yet want to keep Austin quite that weird.

The work on the bridge produced a series of long, thin expansion joints on the bridge’s underside — about an inch wide, 17 inches deep, running the 950-foot length of the bridge. Unbeknownst to the structural engineers, such gaps are terrifically attractive nursery spaces for bats: A square foot of the humid, warm, cozy space can have 200 or more full-grown bats crammed into it.

A potential crisis of public health was declared; the local media dutifully hyperventilated over the story. And along came Tuttle, champion of the bat.

They eat tons of pests every night, he said. They are not likely to give you rabies — look, don’t touch! They are your friends.

Now as then, people from all over the world perch on and around the bridge to watch the dramatic nightly emergence of the bats as they venture out to feed in the warm months when they’re here (they winter in caves in northern Mexico and return to Austin in spring). And now as ever, Tuttle is a tireless advocate for the animals, which had been given a rap almost as bad as the mythical cupacabra.

“I thrive on challenges,” said Tuttle, who’s now 74 and has his own organization, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, which, among other things, offers for nonprofit educational groups free digital images of some of the tens of thousands of bat photos Tuttle has taken in his career.

“You tell me someone’s a die-hard, bat-hater and I’m itching to go see them,” he said. “So often we demonize people who disagree with us. When you start an organization for something as unpopular as bats were in those days, you have to win friends, not battles. If you want to be successful at any cause, you can’t be combative.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot
A few things to know about grackles, Austin’s trashiest mascot

There I was, drinking my morning coffee and seeing what Austin was chattering about Thursday morning, when I searched Google for “can you eat grackles.” It wasn’t a last-ditch stab at finding breakfast. It was a question originally posed by a user on the Austin subreddit (hi, y’all), and I needed to know the answer. The...
Autumn Equinox: 5 things to know about the first day of fall
Autumn Equinox: 5 things to know about the first day of fall

Today is the first day of the fall season, as the autumnal equinox signals the beginning of astronomical fall. This year, that happens across North America on Friday afternoon. So as the weather begins to cool across the country, here are some things to know about that season when the leaves change color and the temperature begins to drop. >>...
N.C. high school clears student section during football game
N.C. high school clears student section during football game

School officials in North Carolina were forced to clear the student section during Friday night’s football game because of inappropriate behavior. >> Read more trending news Ardrey Kell Principal David Switzer sent a message to parents explaining why school administrators had to take extreme action and remove students from the game. In...
Uber stripped of London license
Uber stripped of London license

London stripped Uber on Friday of its license to operate beginning at the end of September, a move that will affect more than 40,000 drivers in one of the world’s biggest cities, Reuters reported. >> Read more trending news  Regulator Transport for London (TfL) said Uber’s conduct posed risks to public safety and it...
FORECAST: First day of fall to see high near 90, small chance of rain Friday, Sunday
FORECAST: First day of fall to see high near 90, small chance of rain Friday, Sunday

Friday forecast for Austin: Happy first day of fall! But don’t let the expected high temperature fool you, Austin’s summer-like weather remains in full swing as a huge helping of humidity from the Gulf of Mexico will keep it feeling like it is near 100 degrees outside this afternoon.  That humidity, being pumped in by the sea breeze...
More Stories