Wildlife biologist calls Fisher Bay crucial habitat for Little Brown Bats

March 3, 2010

WINNIPEG, March 3, 2010

Dr. Craig Willis, a wildlife biologist from the University of Winnipeg, shared his enthusiasm for the flying mammals to 25-30 youth at a special “Bat Talk” today sponsored by the Fisher River Cree Nation and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).

“Bats are intriguing animals,” Dr. Willis said. “After all, what other mammal can fly?”

Willis explained why Manitoba is such a great place to study bats. He also plans to dispel some of the common myths. A bat would never get stuck in your hair – its sense of echolocation is too good for that. What is true is that Little Brown Bats love to eat insects – up to 500–1000 an hour!

Manitoba is prime territory for bats because of our large numbers of limestone caves. At least two species of bats hibernate in the caves, because they maintain constant temperature and humidity. “The Little Brown Bat, one common species, hibernates up to eight months at a stretch,” explained Willis.

The Little Brown Bat is a favourite research subject for Dr. Willis and his students and the Fisher Bay area of Lake Winnipeg is a prime study site because it is home to the most important bat hibernation site in the province, as well as ideal summer habitat for tree-roosting little brown bats. It is important that these areas be protected from human activities.

The region is home to the people of the Fisher River Cree Nation, who are also enthusiastic about the area’s wildlife. They have been urging the provincial government to establish Fisher Bay Provincial Park so they can protect the area from logging and mining, which would be incompatible with their plans for ecotourism. They know there is interest in bird watching and wildlife viewing. Bat viewing is another strong opportunity to attract tourists to the area.

“Bat viewing is popular in many parts of the world, especially the southern United States and even in urban areas like Austin, Texas, where large numbers of Brazilian free-tailed bats roost under bridges in the city,” Dr. Willis said. “We tend to have smaller concentrations of bats in Manitoba but, because of its proximity to ideal hibernation and summer habitat, Fisher River could provide a chance for bat viewing on summer nights over the lake”.

David Crate, Chief of the Fisher River Cree Nation, invited Dr. Willis to give the talk. He intends to invite Dr. Willis to visit his community this summer.

“We will show him good places to see hundreds, maybe thousands of bats. They fly over the lake in the early evening,” Chief Crate said.

The largest bat wintering cave, or hibernaculum, is located near the proposed Fisher Bay Provincial Park in a protected ecological reserve. The adjacent area that is proposed for the park is valuable habitat for the bats.

“More protection for the area would be welcome,” Dr. Willis said. “A provincial park at Fisher Bay would be a wonderful step to protect bats and other plentiful wildlife.”

The Manitoba government has committed to establishing a Fisher Bay provincial park by October 2010. At issue, is determining the final boundaries. Ron Thiessen, Executive Director of the Manitoba chapter of CPAWS expressed his concerns.

“The boundaries proposed by Fisher River Cree Nation are based on the best marriage of ecological, cultural, and economic considerations,” Thiessen explained. “The danger is that the boundaries may be compromised by a lack of political will within the Manitoba government.”

For more information:

Ron Thiessen, (204) 794 4971 or (204) 949 0782
Chief David Crate, (204) 794 4971 or (204) 453 6346
Dr. Craig Willis (204) 786 9433


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