Photo by Svilen Delchev
Four months out from its release date, Sylvester Stallone’s latest pièce (of shit) de résistance, The Expendables 2, has sparked quite a bit of controversy. Surprisingly, the brouhaha is not over its being the cinematic equivalent of liquid skunk feces, but because the film’s production has resulted in the deaths of thousands of bats in Bulgaria’s Devetashka Cave, a home to 13 species (two of which are endangered) that’s ostensibly protected by the government. After filming wrapped, the cave’s bat population dropped more than 30,000 to around 8,500, leading to protests from environmentalists. To learn more about this terrible bat genocide, we met with Antonia Hubancheva from Sofia’s Bat Research and Protection Center and Natural History Museum.
VICE: How was the bat slaughter discovered?
Antonia Hubancheva: Last February, long before the filming started, we counted a population of around 35,000 bats. We planned to tally them again this year, but a colleague of ours, who happened to pass by the cave, saw that the terrain was being prepared for filming. Normally, at this time of year the bats begin to prep for hibernation. Once they’ve secured their supplies, they should be left in peace. Imagine, just as you’re falling asleep, here comes Sly and friends, who decide to throw a party in your bedroom. You have a sleepless night, but the guests return and keep partying for months until, finally, you run out of energy and have no supplies to make it through the winter.
Were the producers aware they were filming in a bat habitat?
They shun commenting on the matter. I don’t think they were aware of the significance of this particular cave, but they should have sensed the situation. The problem is not the fact that they did film, but how they went about doing it—using metal-cutting machines and big trucks, drilling rock, blocking the river, shining powerful torches, and all that. Outside the cave there’s a sign clearly displaying the rules: Do not disturb the bats or block the river, and so on. The Expendables 2 broke all the rules except for one that forbids entering the cave with a herd of goats.
Did they break any laws by filming in this location?
It was outright illegal, but we know how the Bulgarian authorities work. Eventually, the court ruled that the permits for filming inside the cave were null. It’s a huge victory for us.