The scientists were impressed with our bat cave, and with the new bat cave trail that was completed recently. However, they expressed hope that the easier access and resulting increase in human activity does not cause these two bat colonies to abandon this sea cave. They were particularly concerned with limiting access during the reproductive season, as mentioned in this part of the email message:
"There were two species in the cave.
The smaller one was Tadarida brasiliensis (commonly called the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat or the Mexican Free-tailed Bat), which eats mainly insects. They usually mate in March and it takes ~90 days to give birth.
The larger species was Brachyphylla cavernarum (Antillean Fruit-eating bat), which mainly eats fruit but also eats insects and pollen. The reproductive cycle is not well known but estimated to give birth between late May and early June and young cannot not fly until two months old.
"As for recommendations, I would highly recommend blocking off the path to the cave around the last corner to the cave so that people can’t go in there. As I mentioned it could cause stress to the bats, and it is particularly important that no one goes in there during the reproductive season. If females become too stressed when they are pregnant they can abort their fetuses, and when the young are born they can abandon them. So, I would build a barricade just around the last bend and perhaps put up a sign explaining why the barricade is there, and that is especially important during the reproductive season. Some people will likely not follow the rules, but usually if people understand why it is blocked off and have a sign to read about it they will respect it. They can still stand back and watch them emerge, and that is how I would sell the tourist part of it, as an emergence viewing not a cave exploration. As the reproductive season is not well known in the Antillean Fruit-eating bat, I would give a range on the sign for that (April to July) to be safe.
I hope this helps and it was great to meet you and explore the cave. If I am back next year I will try to make it back to see how the colonies are doing."
I do hope they come back next summer (even if I'm not here), and perhaps bring their students to my village for the day!
Watching them explore the entire depths of the bat cave made me want to conquer it before my departure. Thus, I recently made my way into the cave (with some youngsters waiting outside for me), armed with headlamp and flashlight, and slowly worked my way to the back of the cave. There is a bit of a left hand turn near the back, so I had never known for sure how far back the cave went beyond what is visible from the front, but it turns out that it ends shortly after that turn. Here is a view towards the mouth of the cave from about half-way in.
On an unrelated note, I thought I'd share this picture taken recently at the Dominican Broadcasting System, where I was part of a panel from the Peace Corps for a 90-minute radio show. From left to right is our Peace Corps Director for Dominica, the station manager and program host, a Peace Corps Volunteer from last year's class, a Peace Corps Trainee who will be sworn in soon, me, and a Peace Corps Volunteer who preceded me, but who extended for a third year. Thus, each of the four most recent classes of Peace Corps Volunteers on Dominica are represented in this picture.