Next time you order a shot of tequila, take a moment to toast the lesser long-nosed bat, which has been brought back from the brink of extinction partly because of this much beloved agave-based liquor.
Once reduced to a population of just a few thousand individuals, the species was placed on Mexico's endangered species list in 1994, and on the corresponding American list in 1998. Now, thanks to the efforts of conservationists, including tequila producers, the bat has recovered to an estimated number of 200,000 individuals, prompting the US Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing it from the endangered species list in 2017.
"Many entities in both the US and Mexico have worked tirelessly toward recovery and this announcement stands as testimony that dedicated efforts and sound management practices can lead to recovery of endangered species," said Jim deVos, assistant director of wildlife management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in a statement released Thursday.
A major component of the recovery effort focused on the production of "bat-friendly tequila." No, it's not tequila made for imbibement by bats, though it's worth noting that these iconic flying mammals are not above the occasional alcoholic bender.
Rather, bat-friendly tequila refers to liquor farmed by companies that allow their blue agave crops to blossom naturally, instead of prematurely harvesting them before their flowers appear. The lesser long-nosed bat is an avid pollinator of night-blooming plants like agave, and colonies swarm out of their roosts at night to forage for nectar. When agaves are given the time to mature and bloom, bat populations noticeably proliferate, in turn making the crops healthier and more diverse.
Conservation initiatives spearheaded by prolific ecologist Rodrigo Medellín, nicknamed "the Bat Man of Mexico," have resulted in greater public awareness about bats as essential players in the desert ecosystem—along with their crucial role in the creation of good tequila. As a result, major tequila brands are now beginning to offer bat-friendly versions of the drink.
"This is nothing short of a dream come true," Medellín told National Geographic in fall 2016. "It will help save the bat and tequila at the same time."
So raise up that shot and let's say salut, cheers, and l'chaim to the future of this beloved beverage and the bats that have made it possible.
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