Jenni was interviewed by Hailey Thompson, sophomore in Sustainability Studies.
HT: Jenni, tell me a bit about how you got involved with bats.
JT: I have loved bats, and really all animals, since my childhood. When I moved to Texas during my active duty in the U.S. Air Force, they encouraged volunteering, and I wanted to choose opportunities that would let me discover what makes Texas special and connect with the community. I took a workshop in 2015 on bat rehabilitation where I got connected with a local wildlife rescue, and I went from there!
HT: Tell me some more about bats and what makes them so fascinating.
JT: Texas is such an amazing place because we have the two largest bat colonies in the world! The largest colony has an estimated 20 million individuals in San Antonio’s Bracken Cave; the second largest is the 1.5 to 2 million mothers and young that live in Austin right under the Congress Avenue Bridge until they migrate south for winter. As for the bats themselves, there are 10 to 12 species in this area alone, 33 species in Texas, and 41 to 42 species native to the U.S. They play an important role in the ecosystem and in the agricultural economy. A study was done some years ago in South-Central Texas on the impact of one species of bat on cotton crops, and it found that farmers were saving over $700,000 in pesticide spending because of the insects bats eat! Calculating those numbers to include all of our food crops across the U.S., the figure is around $3 billion.
HT: What is your new project on campus?
JT: I started a project team called BatX under the Campus Environmental Center, and, if there’s enough interest, we could turn it into a new student organization. I wanted to debunk the myths surrounding bats because I see a lot of general fear and direct human-animal conflict that stem from these myths. We want the public to know that bats are out there and are important, so we should work to protect them instead of fear them. We also work to encourage UT students to consider careers in bat research, conservation and volunteer opportunities as not only ways to enrich their time at UT but to connect them to this awesome local treasure.
HT: How are you planning to integrate BatX into the university?
JT: Right now, I’m setting up a series of workshops and would love to connect with other student organizations or projects on campus to create events tailored to both of our interests. This would be something like partnering with biology students, conservation science, or the international office to talk about global species. Currently we have myself and three other team members whom I’m training, so hopefully they’ll be able to do some outreach as well soon enough.
HT: What if people want to get involved with BatX?
JT: They can follow the BatX project page which is being expanded to include online learning modules, or join the Campus Environmental Center as a general member or joing the BatX Project team. We also have public events and a variety of workshops available that people can get involved in. I’d love for anyone in a student organization to reach out to me if they have a proposal for collaboration!
Author: Kristin Elise Phillips, Communications Coordinator, Office of Sustainability