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Bats Touted as More Heroic Than Heinous

July 21, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Being a bad guy is a huge responsibility. Evildoers are expected to be ever vigilant, striking terror in the hearts of many--even on days when they would rather be shopping for a new dinette set or curling up with a cup of cocoa and a good book.

For the truly nasty, life is just one mean thing after another: hauntings by night, icky potions by day, and what seems like an endless rotation of stalking, creeping and slithering.

And the rest of us are coping well with the general mayhem. (Even embracing it, judging by the popularity and ubiquity of Freddie Krueger movies.)

But now--when we have finally learned to take our evil where we find it--we have an altogether new breed of troublemaker to deal with: the revisionist. That's the sort of person who would have us believe that Richard III was actually a hail fellow well met and a doting uncle. And that the shy and kindly tarantula makes a swell pet. And that bats are not only some of the most important mammals on Earth, but they may be related to us.

Related? Maybe to Jeffrey Dahmer, I hear you saying, but not to me.

Well, sorry, but according to local bat advocates Dee and John Lockwood, the furry, flying mammal has gotten a bad rap for too many years.

Staff writer Leonard Reed, who wrote this week's Centerpiece feature on bats and their proponents, is now inclined to agree that bats are a misunderstood species, though he didn't quite know what to make of either the Lockwoods or the bats when he stumbled onto the story.

"I drove into the Barnes & Noble parking lot and saw a large van bearing the logo 'SAVE THE BATS,' " said Reed. "I hadn't thought often about bats, much less about saving them. So the owners of the van intrigued me as much as the bat subject. Who would drive around like that? And whatever happened to 'SAVE THE RAIN FOREST'--something everyone could understand? I left a card under the windshield wiper, asked them to call me."

And call they did.

"Of course the van owners turned out to be amazing people with an amazing dedication. I not only learned that bats might be related to us as primates but that their capacities to reseed the Earth are vitally linked to, among other places, rain forest survival. Bats are also linked to human heart research. Sonar development in the Navy. Insect and pest control."

Not the stuff of nightmares, Halloween horror or rabid rural legend. More heroic than heinous, the bat seems deserving of a place in a tale by Beatrix Potter, rather than one by Bram Stoker.

"Well, well. Do bats cook dinner? Mow the yard? Not quite," said Reed. "But almost. They're worth thinking about. The Lockwoods and Ojai naturalist Kris Mashburn are deserving of thanks: for reshaping the bat image from one of wanton night stalker to kindly relative."

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