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What about the bats?

In this week’s newsletter, editor Michelle Cyca lovingly calls out our tendency to disregard animals that aren’t outwardly appealing — and implores you to read about these nocturnal cuties

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Pink-hued clouds over the Alberta badlands.


As a boy, Neil Griffin fell in love with bats on family vacations in the Alberta badlands. At dusk, they would fill the sky, “blinking and darting like aerial morse code, cutting low over the brown water, stunning mayflies with a hypersonic burst of echolocation before catching them.”

Neil might be an anomaly. 

Bats don’t get a lot of love. It’s true — here at The Narwhal, we write about a lot of animal species, and we can see which ones our readers are especially drawn to. Bears and caribou, yes; slugs and bats, not so much. Nearly 40 years ago, zoologist George Schaller coined the term “charismatic megafauna” to describe the appeal of the large, beautiful animals that prompt widespread fascination and devotion. But our personal interest also shapes our response to animals imperilled by human activity in a way that is both tragic and myopic. We mourn for endangered elephants and tigers, but what about all the other creatures who are equally irreplaceable and unique? What about the bats?

Bats are adaptable, nurturing, gentle and ancient — at least 52 million years older than us humans. And although they represent one of every five mammals on Earth, we tend to overlook them. So when Neil attended the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity residency for literary journalism last summer, he wrote them a love letter of sorts.
 

An illustration of a man shining a flashlight under a bridge at sunset, with Alberta badlands in the distance.


“With all respect to the beaver and the maple leaf, if it were up to me, little brown bats would be Canada’s emblem,” Neil writes. But his beloved bats are disappearing. In his luminous and devastating feature, he traces the plight of white-nose syndrome — a European fungal disease that emerged in New York state in 2006, most likely carried by a tourist, and has spread across North America. There is no known cure, and no way to stop the spread of the disease, which reached Alberta in 2022. Millions of bats have died so far

There are many pragmatic reasons to worry about the disappearance of bats, which fill critical ecological roles, particularly when it comes to managing mosquito populations. But Neil resists the impulse to appeal to human self-interest in making a case for bats. “I worry this is a narrow way of thinking, a shallow way of interacting with the world,” he writes. “I did not learn to love bats because they ate some bugs that would otherwise bite me. I learned to love them because of their acrobatics, their mastery of the night, the shock and delight of their appearance, sudden and silent in the air.” 

It’s that reverence that brought Neil back to the badlands last summer, where he’d hoped to find survivors.

Like all the best writing about the natural world, Neil’s story will transform how you understand the species who share our planet, to reconsider what you might have overlooked. It’s impossible to read it and not be captivated by the little brown bat, just in time for its disappearance to break your heart.

Take care and watch the night skies, 

Michelle Cyca
Editor, Indigenous-led conservation
Headshot of Michelle Cyca

 
Headshot of Denise Balkissoon and Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood, from left to right.

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Oh, to write about the natural world


Speaking of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, guess who’ll be the faculty members for its two-week environment-focused literary journalism residency next February?

Perhaps we gave it away with their photos … but it’s The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau chief, Denise Balkissoon, and B.C. reporter Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood!

Know someone who’d be interested in the program? Send them this newsletter! 

The deadline to apply may be in October, but break the writer stereotype and submit your application in advance!

 
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This week in The Narwhal

On the Fraser River, an aerial view of a brown pile of rocky debris lays on top on a low, gravelly channel. It's tumbled from a slope on the left. The water is low, but the debris spills across the low green-ish water that remains
Oil spilled by Fraser River sturgeon habitat. Why did it take almost 3 months to start cleaning up?
By Steph Kwetásel’wet Wood
A landslide in early December caused a spill that First Nations leaders say endangers prime sturgeon habitat in the Fraser River. They’re left wondering why it’s taken so long to address.

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Alberta pumpjacks barely visible over horizon at sunset
Alberta’s budget: a new tax on electric vehicles — and a continued reliance on fossil fuel revenue
By Drew Anderson
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B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy stands at a podium with a blue sign behind her promoting the 2024 provincial budget
What B.C. is — and isn’t — spending on the environment this election year
By Sarah Cox
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How does Alberta’s electricity grid actually work?
By Drew Anderson
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What we’re reading & streaming


APTN News has a new six-part podcast series, The Place That Thaws, which journeys through the High Arctic, bringing you stories about communities grappling with the challenges of a warming world.

The Tyee’s Amanda Follett Hosgood explains why Trans Mountain dug through a sacred site — which has been used for thousands of years by the Secwépemc for hunting, fishing and ceremonial purposes — to install a pipe, bringing the expansion project one step closer to completion.

 
GIF of a bat glamorously spreading its wings.

Nocturnal cuties trying to be glamorous enough for readers to bat an eye. Won’t you ask your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletters so they, too, can hang out with the flying grizzlies?

 
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