How tequila producers helped bring a bat species back from the brink

April 18, 2018, 10:17 a.m.

When environmentalists and industry leaders come together for conservation, amazing things happen. Take, for instance, the case of the lesser long-nosed bat.

This species was once close to extinction. Because it's a nectar-eating species and thus critical for pollination of plants such as agave (the plant used to make tequila) it's plight was the worry of not only biologists and conservationists but also tequila producers.

These groups have combined efforts over the course of 30 years, and the species has been removed from the endangered species list — a first for a bat species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were once less than 1,000 of these bats left in the U.S. and Mexico at 14 different roost sites. Today, there are about 200,000 at 75 roosts.

"It is great to see the lesser long-nosed bat has reached its recovery goals and is no longer under imminent threat of extinction," said Dr. Winifred Frick, Bat Conservation International’s chief scientist, in a statement. "Scientists and conservation groups in both Mexico and in the U.S. have worked together over the years to protect the species and mitigate the threats to its long-term viability. The story of the lesser long-nosed bat shows that conservation and science work together to provide species the chance to recover and persist."

Some agave farmers and tequila producers also played a role in saving the lesser long-nosed bat (which was removed from Mexico's Endangered Species List in 2015). They integrated "harvest and cultivation practices in recognition that agaves symbiotically rely on bats for pollination."

Bats are an under-appreciated pollinator. "In North American deserts, giant cacti and agave depend on bats for pollination, while tropical bats pollinate incredible numbers of plants," explains Bat Conservation International.

So next time you sip a fine tequila, raise your glass to a bat. And if you want to help bats in the process, look for brands that are part of the Tequila Interchange Project, a coalition of bartenders, scientists and industry professionals who work to make tequila production more sustainable and promote bat-friendly brands.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in January 2017.