Bright beams pierced the banyan trees peppered throughout Coral Gables’ Granada Golf Course last Sunday night as hundreds of visitors flashed the night sky searching for a quick glimpse of the recently discovered bonneted bats.
Calls from crickets and other insects camouflaged the their high-pitched squeaks as two of the bats swiftly swooped and fluttered above the multitude of guests.
The bat watch was organized by a Florida International University biologist, Kristen “Kisi” Bohn, who discovered the bats in late 2012 when she moved three blocks away from the course.
“We put this together pretty quickly because I wanted to take advantage of the momentum. Tonight was really an info session for the public,” Bohn said.
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As the bat news began to go viral around the Coral Gables community, Bohn’s email began to flood.
For Bohn, who believes there might be around 20 to 40 bonneted bats living in the area, the most important goal for this event was twofold. Not only was it aimed as a way to foster awareness about the bats but also to help gather support from the community to further study them.
Some members of the enthusiastic crowd Sunday used their smart devices to transform the bats’ low-frequency echolocation signals into a visualization with the help of a free iOS app called SpectrumView.\
With an iPad in hand, volunteer Juan Escorcia came out to survey the bats with his wife Gloria.
“We came out here to get informed on how and what we can do to help the doctors,” said Escorcia, who was amazed there were bats in Miami. “It’s crazy, but they’re in our backyards.”
According to Bohn, the bats – also known as Eumops floridanus – are one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America.
“I feel bad for them and I don’t want them to be extinct,” said Elisa Chong, 10, who came to the event with her dad Hernando and 8-year-old sister Gabriella. “Before I got here I thought that we would just be able to hear the bats, but when we got to see them that was really awesome and I couldn’t believe it.”
Among the organizers for the event, was Don Slesnick, former mayor of Coral Gables, who lives in front of the golf course and had never met Bohn.
As a community effort, Slesnick donated the front property of his house to allow the events sponsor, Bacardi, to host a free beverage booth for those in attendance.
“I hope that whatever has happened tonight and whatever happens in the future because of tonight will help protect these bats,” said Slesnick, who was overwhelmed by the amount of visitors he saw.
“I think it’s great to have a situation where there was great camaraderie and interaction. These people came out for the right reasons and the right cause.”
Currently, Bohn is looking for more volunteers who can help her conduct further studies.
For information, email Bohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Matias J. Ocner on Twitter @matiasocner