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Rare Bats Discovered in Eastern Oklahoma

January 17, 2006

TULSA, Okla. — A forestry specialist with the Cherokee Nation appraising timber in eastern Oklahoma uncovered a newfound colony of endangered Ozark big-eared bats. Scientists believe that only about 2,000 of the bats exist, and roughly 75 percent of those are in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma bat colony was discovered by forester Pat Gwin, who noticed the bats in a cave and thought most of them looked ordinary.

“But I saw this one bat that I was a little worried about maybe not being run-of-the-mill,” he said.

A biologist, Gwin had studied the animals 20 years ago as a student assistant to a research professor at Northeastern State University.

He called in Steve Hensley, manager of the nearby Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge.

Hensley, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed that some of the bats were the rare Ozark big-eared variety.

The men were careful not to bother the colony.

Neither the tribe nor the federal agency will release the landowner’s name or reveal the exact location of the bats.

The bats can’t be bothered in the summer months, when they’re raising their young, Hensley said. If humans come around, the parent bats will abandon the pups.

They can’t be bothered while they’re hibernating during the winter, either.

If they awaken, the bats will begin burning the energy they’ve stored from a summer of insect-eating. With no bugs to consume, they’ll starve before warm weather returns, Hensley said.

The landowner’s original plan to cut and sell his timber would be detrimental to the bats, so tribal and federal officers began searching for money to fund a conservation easement, which essentially would compensate the landowner for not cutting the trees and leaving the bats alone.

The Cherokee Nation came through with the money.

“Imagine yourself in these fiscal times saying, ‘I need x-number of dollars to save some bats,’” Gwin said. “That’s why I really say the Environmental Protection Commission of the tribe really stepped up.”

Although Gwin declined to give exact figures, he said the Cherokee Nation provided “several thousand dollars” to save the bats.

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com




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