Carlsbad Caverns' Bat Flight Program to be Camera-Free
Contact: Bridget Litten, 505.785.3024
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Superintendent John Benjamin announced today that evening bat flight programs at the park will be camera-free. “The park has allowed photos to be taken at the bat flight program provided flashes are not used,” said Benjamin, “and yet flash photos are still being taken. As a ‘technologically challenged’ person, I can’t figure out how to turn off the flash on my own camera. The only way to prevent flash photography entirely is to eliminate cameras altogether.”
The Cavern’s Mexican free-tail bat colony—estimated at nearly 400,000 bats—contributes to the park’s status as a world-class resource, as well as a World Heritage site. In addition to the Mexican free-tail bats, at least 15 other species of bats use the park as habitat. To the extent possible, the park wants to avoid disturbing these bats, so it is eliminating one source of disturbance: cameras, including video cameras. Several scientific studies, along with the observations of many bat researchers from around the world, have documented the disturbance caused to bats by lights, especially white light such as that in flash photography.
A scientific study of Mexican free-tailed bats in Texas found that “sharp camera flashes and video-recorder lights beamed toward the emerging bats caused them to veer away. Television bank lights at the tunnel entrance stopped an emergence.” Other lights caused “disorientation and the crash of some bats into vegetation.” They documented that “loud noises and bright lights were two important disturbance factors” with these bats. Another study of these bats in Texas showed a strong behavioral response to steady white light that was considerably different from the response to darkness.
At Kartchner Caverns State Park in southern Arizona, bats taking off and landing from their roost responded negatively in full-white light, while a lack of light caused them no disturbance. Red and lower-intensity white light also caused disturbance over the no-light treatment.
In addition to these studies, Carlsbad Caverns National Park has numerous written observations documenting that bats are disturbed by lights in the cave and flashes at the entrance. In the 1970s, scientists filming the bat flight illuminated the entrance with movie light for five seconds at a time, each time causing an immediate temporary halt to the flight. In the 1990s, scientists found that camera flashes caused changes in bat outflight behavior.
The park also receives numerous visitor comments about the use of cameras during the bat flights—it seems camera flashes are disturbing to other visitors as well. Benjamin added, “There are some places where the use of cameras just isn’t appropriate. Museums and art galleries are examples, and Kartchner Caverns doesn’t permit cameras at all. Certainly the bat flight fits into that category of times and places where camera use is not appropriate.”
Besides the risks to the bats, it is very difficult to get good quality photos of a bat flight under any circumstances, and the risks simply aren’t worth the results that most visitors get. Photos of the bat flight will be available for sale at a nominal fee at a sales station behind the amphitheater seating area.
The nightly emergence flight of the Mexican free-tailed bat colony at Carlsbad Cavern in the summer is a premier world-renowned visitor attraction. In addition to the educational and aesthetic value of watching the bats fly out of the cave entrance, foraging bats consume vast quantities of insects in natural and agricultural areas, providing an important ecosystem service.
Evening bat flight programs, held at the Natural Entrance amphitheater, will begin in mid-May and continue through October or until the bats migrate to Mexico for the winter. These programs are free and begin around sunset—the exact starting time may be obtained by calling 505.785.3012.
For more information about the park, call 505.785.2232, or visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/cave/.