Center for Biological Diversity

Tell Discovery Channel to Pull Bat-killing Show, Promote Conservation

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The Discovery Channel has set bat conservation back by about 100 years with a recent anti-bat installment of its "Man vs. Wild" program.
In one of this year’s episodes, host Bear Grylls demonstrates how to whack bats with a handmade club after first driving them out of their roost cave with a burning torch. Grylls wielded a makeshift club, whacking the bats out of the air and killing them. Ostensibly, Grylls was demonstrating how to "survive" by hunting bats for food, but in reality, the disturbing show depicted the kind of senseless slaughter that has pushed bat species around the world to the brink of extinction.
Killing animals for entertainment is bad enough. However, broadcasting this sickening behavior to millions of viewers, young and old, and justifying it as a survival technique is beyond the pale. 
Far from being emissaries of evil, bats are vital citizens of our natural world. Insect-eating bats keep bug populations in check; pollinating bats play a crucial role in the reproduction of numerous plant species; cave-dwelling bats provide key inputs of guano, helping to maintain whole networks of other cave-dependent species. But "Man vs. Wild" ignores all of these facts, instead going for cheap, destructive thrills at the expense of bats
In response to initial complaints about the bat-killing episode, Discovery appears to have pulled the "Bat Tennis" video off its Web site, but it’s unfortunately still available elsewhere on the internet. Removing the video is a step in the right direction, but the media giant needs to do far more to counteract the negative messages about bats that it broadcast on the recent episode of "Man vs. Wild."

With white-nose syndrome sweeping across the country and threatening to extinguish several bat species, bats have never been in a more precarious position than they are right now.
Please take action now to tell Discovery Channel that it needs to stop any future broadcasts, online distribution, or sales of the bat-killing program, and that it needs to set the record straight about bats. Discovery Channel should make Grylls give a public statement about the important role of bats in nature and acknowledge that human persecution of bats is still a huge problem that has led to severe reductions in their numbers. Bats are the ones struggling for their very survival.

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Please submit comments by June 30, 2010.

Indiana bat photo courtesy USFWS.

Bear Gryll’s prominence as a public figure grants him a great deal of influence over how people think about their behavior in relationship to wildlife. In fact, he has positioned himself as a spokesperson for proper outdoor conduct and conservation, in his role as “chief scout” for the Scout Association, and as an ambassador for RARE, a group whose mission is "to conserve imperiled species and ecosystems around the world by inspiring people to care about and protect nature." Yet in the “Bat Tennis” episode, he ruthlessly swats bats out of the air, an act that’s clearly unethical and, for some species in at least some U.S. states, blatantly illegal. In an earlier episode, Grylls reinforces cultural biases against bats when he goes into another cave, disturbs the resident bats, then shouts, “They’re vampire bats!” and “I hate bats!”

Bats around the world have been persecuted in just the ways depicted in the Discovery episode for centuries. It has taken decades of painstaking outreach by biologists and environmental educators to alter long-held cultural misconceptions about bats and to dissuade misguided people from automatically killing them as vermin.

Despite all that is known about bats nowadays, and all the work that has been done to help people appreciate their role in natural systems, there are those who still hold a baseless hatred of them. Some people even kill bats for fun. Only a couple months ago, two men were convicted of violating the Endangered Species Act by bludgeoning and crushing over one hundred endangered Indiana bats in a Kentucky cave.