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Book Reviews

The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals
by Merlin Tuttle, 2015, HMH Publishing, 271 pages

January 11, 2016

Conservation Friends,

If you are in need of a healthy dose of environmental optimism, you’ve come to the right place. This is the most affirmative book I’ve read in several years. Merlin Tuttle has devoted a lifetime to saving and promoting bat species around the world, with much success. The individual book chapters are a tour with him, one project after another, filled with hands-on science, amazing negotiations with local people (not all of them friendly), and sometimes incredible adventures (for example, huddled in a cold river for a night, shared with crocodiles and biting aquatic beetles, and a pride of lions waiting on the bluff above).

His tales are very believable because the result of many of his excursions are exquisite photos for his next National Geographic story. If you have been a regular reader of that magazine for the last two or three or four decades, this book is a behind-the-scenes look at what went into building those stories.

His finest moments are often near the end of each chapter, where he returns to the same cave or forest a decade or two later, and learns that his effort was sustainable – the cave is now part of a protected park, or the local folks now see their bats as useful pollinators instead of devils to be torched, or the tourists are now spending money locally to watch the nightly exodus, or…

In situations where others might only see despair, Merlin searches out opportunity by empathizing with people, and often winds up converting bat destroyers and indifferent officials into accomplices who work with him to protect these amazing creatures. If you only read one conservation book in 2016, make it this one.

Lon Drake