Monarch butterflies are released during the 2018 Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival at the Pearl. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

The “Bat Man of Mexico” will be descending on this year’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival.

Rodrigo Medellín, an ecologist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), has spent decades working to protect bats, an animal that he says has been unfairly stigmatized but provides essential biological services for the world. His work earned him the “Bat Man” nickname from famed naturalist David Attenborough, who narrated a BBC documentary on Medellín and his work.

“There are a lot of animals with a negative image, from sharks to snakes to scorpions to bats and many others, but none does more for our everyday well-being than bats,” said Medellín. “None does more for the corrective functioning of ecosystems than bats.”

Medellín will join Dara Satterfield, a monarch butterfly expert and visiting Trinity University scholar, and John Burnett, an Austin-based National Public Radio correspondent who covers the Southwest border and immigration, for a panel at the Pearl Stable on Friday, Oct. 18, at 5:30 p.m.

The panel is part of the 2019 Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival, which runs from Oct. 12 to Oct. 20.

The panel will discuss border issues as they relate to monarch butterflies and pollinators. Burnett has been covering the border in some capacity for 30 years, but focused all of his attention on the border and immigration when President Donald Trump started his presidential campaign. Though Burnett’s reporting looks at border issues from a human scale, he did have a chance to see the monarch butterfly’s winter home in Mexico 20 years ago, he said.

“When you do nature reporting, there are some migrations which are just one of the wonders of the world, and this is one of those,” Burnett said. “To see where the monarchs … breed, where they land in Mexico, where millions of them are in these trees, hanging like chandeliers. And you can stand and they fly over you and under you and through your arms. It’s one of the most beautiful mass migrations and one of the most extraordinary ones that I’ll ever witness in my life.”

Not only are pollinators beautiful, they are incredibly important to the world’s biological diversity, Medellín said. Bats pollinate the agave plant, from which mezcal and tequila are made. 

“Next time you raise your glass of tequila or mezcal, celebrating whatever you want to celebrate, please first and foremost toast the bats,” Medellín said. “They are the ones that ensure you are enjoying the drink.”

Satterfield said she hopes to highlight the seasonal migrations that many wildlife species take each year and to hear from other experts.

“I am excited to learn more about other migratory and pollinator species including bats and insects,” she said via email. “My experience has mostly focused on monarchs, so it’s fun to learn about other wildlife.”

An educator symposium starts off the butterfly and pollinators festival on Saturday, Oct. 12. Teachers can learn more about pollinators and how to teach about them from 9 a.m. to noon at Confluence Park. Educators from Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad Counties can register for the workshop for free here, but spots are limited. Another workshop for teachers will be taught in Spanish at the San Antonio Botanical Garden at the same time. Teachers can register for the Spanish language class here.

The first Monarch Ultra, an ultramarathon covering more than 2,500 miles from Canada to Mexico, will pass through San Antonio on Thursday, Oct. 17. Runners will take on 50 to 100 kilometer stretches, and collectively finish the migration route over 47 days.

There will be a free screening of The Bat Man of Mexico, the documentary about Medellín and his efforts to save agave bats, at UNAM San Antonio’s auditorium on Wednesday, Oct. 16. 

Medellín hopes to help people understand that bats are vital to the world’s health – not only do they act as major pollinators, but they eat tons of insects every day that would otherwise damage crops and humans’ food supply. And bats are simply part of a larger ecosystem that needs all its parts to work properly, he said.

“Without biological diversity, human beings would not be able to survive for a year,” Medellín said. “We rely on pollinators, seed dispersal, top predators, herbivores, healthy soils, clean water, clean air for all of our purposes, all of our procedures, all of our processes. If we lose that, then it’s our very survival on the line.”

Find the full festival schedule here.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.