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Bat that pollinates tequila agave no longer endangered


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is suggesting that the lesser long-nosed bat be removed from Endangered Species Act protections. The tiny mammal — responsible for pollinating agave plants — has reportedly recovered from near extinction. The lesser long-nosed bat was originally listed in 1988 when there were fewer than 1,000 in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Today, there are about 200,000.

“The science clearly shows threats to the bat have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the bat has recovered,” Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest regional director Amy Lueders said in a release. “The Service is proud of our strong, decades-long partnerships with very diverse stakeholders on behalf of the lesser long-nosed bat. Without partnerships and collaborations such as these, successful recovery would not be possible.”

International repopulation efforts are credited to biologists and researchers; state, federal, and tribal entities; non-governmental organizations; and tequila producers, who are “increasingly integrating harvest and cultivation practices,” to help safeguard the bat’s population. This is especially important because tequila production relies on these specific bats for pollination. These creatures even inspired a movement toward eco-conscious “bat-friendly” tequila — if you see this message on a product label, it means that the plant was naturally pollinated.

Southern Arizona residents have also assisted by monitoring bats’ nighttime use of hummingbird feeders for a full decade. This gave biologists get a better understanding of migration timing. The residents also helped capture bats and affix radio transmitters to them to lead them to their roosting and foraging sites, many of which are managed by federal agencies.

These entities — the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca — have reportedly integrated the bat’s forage plants (agaves, and saguaro and organ pipe cacti) into their land use and resource management plans. They’ve also made an effort to deter human disturbance in caves and abandoned mines where bats are found. This includes the installation of special gates that allow the pollinators to enter and exit at their leisure, yet prohibit human traffic.

As the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to monitor lesser long-nosed bats, it is expected that the animal will be officially removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 30 days after its the proposal is published in the Federal Register. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, lesser long-nosed bats are now more likely to survive their full natural lifespan — which can last multiple decades, making bats some of the world’s longest-lived animals for their size.