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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World


Mining is a major anthropogenic source of environmental destruction and contamination globally. Toxins associated with extensive mining operations, in particular, gold mining is well documented. Cyanide used to extract gold from ore is commonly stored in open ponds, some of which are 200 acres in size. The actual numbers of bats, and other wildlife killed by drinking at these ponds is poorly understood and very difficult to track as many affected individuals either become submerged, or die from drinking contaminated water after leaving the site. Between 1980 and 1989, 34 % of all known mammals killed at cyanide ponds used for mining gold in California, Nevada, and Arizona were bats (Clark and Hothem 1991).

Other heavy metals used in mining operations such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, methyl mercury, nickel, and zinc have been found in bat carcasses. In Arizona, USA where at least 20 % of bat populations are in decline (King et al. 2001), Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) living 8 km from a major copper smelting mine had accumulated significant levels of atmospheric mercury in their tissues (Petit 2007). In another study in Arizona, pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus), western pipistrelles (Parastrellus hesperus), and T. brasiliensis had elevated mercury levels in their liver and muscles that they most likely acquired via drinking from contaminated free-water sources (Reidinger 1972; see also Syaripuddin et al. 2014).

Besides contaminated ponds, natural water flows through thousands of abandoned mines in the western USA (used by bats for hibernaculum and maternity roosts) may be highly contaminated with heavy metals. For example, at Sheep Tank Mine overlooking the Colorado River in Arizona, barium, manganese and zinc were detected in soil samples at concentrations 10 times normal levels and E. fuscus captured at the site had higher concentrations of these elements than those collected from three other sites (King et al. 2001). Other species included in the study had high arsenic levels as well as other contaminants (copper, lead, barium, manganese, and zinc) (King et al. 2001). Bats and other terrestrial vertebrates can also be exposed to high levels of contaminants by ingesting aquatic emergent insects living in toxic streams and High levels of bioaccumulated cadmium and zinc are known to occur as far as 381 km downstream from the pollution source, whereas lead was found to be transferred from sediments to chironomids (midges) only as far as 40 km downstream (Cain et al. 1992). Thus, large stretches of streams and rivers far from the point source of contamination pose threats to bats and other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

Bats are also known to fly and possibly forage/drink over gold mines in Australia (Donato and Smith 2007; Smith et al. 2008). High bat activity was recorded over gold mine water bodies containing cyanide (Griffiths et al. 2014a). Griffiths et al. (2014b) suggested that elevated salt levels in water bodies at gold mines may decrease bat activity, foraging, and drinking. Bats, including the Vulnerable (IUCN 2014) ghost bat, Macroderma gigas, have also been recorded around an Australian copper mine in the Great Sandy Desert, although the mine's effects on individuals or the population is unknown (Read 1998).

Africa is rich in mineral resources and this makes mining activities relatively common so likely a serious threat to water quality and therefore to bats. A matter of grave concern is that no research has been done in Africa in this regard. This situation prevails despite evidence that mining activities do pollute surface water in Africa (Olade 1987; Naicker et al. 2003).

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