Latin America is an extremely important region for bat conservation. It is home to at least 345 known species of bats (compared to just 47 in the U.S.), and 40 of those are considered vulnerable or critically endangered.
Chris Woodruff, a 2002 graduate of Decatur High School, joined Bat Conservation International (BCI) in August 2009.
“Bats are fascinating and misunderstood around the world,” Woodruff said. “It’s inspiring for me to work for an organization that is dedicated to changing the world’s perceptions about bats, while at the same time safeguarding the vital ecosystem services that bats provide through the three Ps – pest control, pollination and dispersal of seeds.”
Before starting with BCI, Woodruff earned bachelor’s degrees in international studies and Spanish from Texas A&M in 2007, then attended the University of Texas and earned a master’s degree in Latin American studies in 2009.
“I went to Colombia in December 2012 to represent BCI at the 2012 annual meeting of the Latin American Bat Conservation Network,” Woodruff said.
In Spanish, this annual meeting is called “La Red Latinoamericana para la Conservaci n de los Murci lagos” (RELCOM).
“The RELCOM annual meeting is conducted in Spanish, so my ability to speak Spanish is one of my most valuable skills,” he said.
In early 2012, BCI and RELCOM signed a memorandum of understanding, which allowed them to launch joint projects and collaborate on regional bat conservation efforts in at least 19 countries.
“The RELCOM meeting took place over four days,” he said, “with lots of discussions about the ongoing projects and progress of different RELCOM countries, planning for future projects, and decisions about strategic priorities for the future.”
BCI is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s bats and their ecosystem to ensure a healthy planet. More about their mission can be found online at www.batcon.org.
“My participation at the RELCOM meeting helped to further this budding partnership, as I shared details about the strategic direction of Bat Conservation International in Latin America,” Woodruff said. “I learned a great deal about the progress and priorities of the biologists and educators working hard in RELCOM’s 19 member countries.”
Working as the international programs and development coordinator, Woodruff plays a valuable role in this worldwide organization.
“I’m not a biologist, so I don’t work on the science end of conservation, but rather the partnership building, fundraising and contract management end of things,” he said.
BCI and RELCOM are working more closely now to leverage funding and design conservation projects that will make the most sustainable impact.
“I communicate with different partners from RELCOM in Latin America on almost a daily basis about the status of projects, future plans for workshops or other training events and writing grant proposals to raise funds,” Woodruff said.
A few months after his trip to Villa de Leyva, Colombia, he traveled to Kenya this past February to assist in setting up a new bat conservation network in Africa.
“BCI raised the funds, arranged for the travel of 30 conservationists from 19 African countries to attend what we called the African Bat Conservation Summit,” Woodruff said. “The Summit was an incredible, week-long meeting, held at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute in Naivasha.”
Woodruff was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the Summit. He remains in contact with all of the participants as Bat Conservation Africa continues to grow.
“This type of international capacity building is extremely important for Bat Conservation International because we aren’t big enough to send our own scientists around the world,” Woodruff said. “It is better to help train and provide the necessary resources to local conservationists so that they can ensure the long-term success and sustainability of the projects.”
Woodruff will travel to Costa Rica this August. Between trips, he sets up partnership agreements, writes grant proposals with partners to raise funds for projects and manages contracts with partners in other countries.
“In Costa Rica I will be representing BCI at the 2013 annual meeting of the Latin American Bat Conservation Network,” he said. “My favorite part of traveling is helping diverse groups of people, from dozens of countries, unite behind a common issue, bat conservation, that is so important and yet so under-prioritized by most of the world.”
BCI, based in Austin, owns the property surrounding the world’s largest bat colony, Bracken Bat Cave. BCI is a membership-driven organization, and anyone can join for $35 per year at www.batcon.org.
“Although here in the U.S. bats are largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind, bats are more prominent in the everyday lives of people in many parts of the world,” Woodruff said. “I hope that my work in partnership building and fundraising leads to greater awareness and greater action for bat conservation around the world.”
Cristin is a senior at Decatur High School. To read more from our Youth Spoken reporters, visit WCMessenger.com/youthspoken.