I have probably been inside every cave system located in the state of Kentucky. In the eastern half of the state, limestone lies underneath everything we have, so as a Girl Scout and your normal inquisitive kid, I enjoyed spending time in caves. On fieldtrips, the cave walls were slick with the glitter of thousands of tiny water droplets running together along the soft limestone. These drops wove in and out amongst themselves, forming pools along the edge of the rock wall and in between stalagmites that protrude from the ground like the bent, angular teeth of the cave. There, everything was quiet, the sound of dripping water being the only one that permeated the thick wall of silence that seemed to stick to everything like Velcro. As a writer, I was in love.
Never fail, on every trip into a cave a tour guide would periodically shush the group of chattering kids surrounded by the semi-dark and point to a place in the ceiling where, if our eyes were good enough, we could spot any of a number of tiny, palm-sized Indiana bats that slumbered upside down above our heads. "The Indiana bat," the tour guide would proceed to tell us, "is found throughout much of the eastern U.S. and is only approximately three inches in height. Many of these bats' habitats have been disturbed by the reconstruction of caves, vandalism by visitors, and pesticides that infect the insects they eat." Little did I know, as a precocious elementary student from eastern Kentucky, that time after time, these tour guides continued to outline some of the largest causes of wilderness degradation throughout the industrialized world.
The Indiana bat has been identified as "endangered throughout its range" according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For an animal that makes its home in over 18 states, encountering the same problems in each one, it's incredible that the bat has not yet gone extinct. Yet, in the past few decades, there have been efforts to protect the bat. Because of their small size, while hibernating, nearly 500 bats can fit in one square foot of space. This means that when disturbances happen, the amount of bats affected is exponentially higher than most other mammals.
In Kentucky alone, where the third largest population of the Indiana bats lives, many parks and wildlife refuges have begun to construct gates that keep people out during the bats' winter hibernation. Yet, possibly the best method of protection is education. As more children visit the cave systems in Kentucky more than any other age group, the idea that these bats rely entirely upon our responsibility to the environment is a daunting one at that. It seems that the list of endangered species living in the United States continues to grow, which can really only be attributed to the increasing urbanization of what were once-unadulterated habitats. Yet until these species can prove that they can live in air conditioned condos and eat processed foods, it falls upon us to have the presence of mind to realize that not everything humans touch will turn to gold.