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Germany

Holy Cow Batman! The U.N. Is Watching Out for You

Bats are one of Europe’s most endangered species. So much so that the European bat has its own U.N. protection agency - the smallest U.N. secretariat in the world.

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They're not actually scary...

Andreas Streit and his assistant are the only employees in a tiny office hidden in a corner of the United Nations building in Bonn. They share their office with the secretariat for the protection of North Sea and Baltic whales. But Streit and his assistant are interested in another mammal. They run the U.N. Protection Agency for the European bat – the smallest U.N. secretariat in the world.

The habitat so beloved by bats in Europe has long been under threat by humans. The use of pesticides poison the bats’ food and wood preservatives make it difficult for the nocturnal mammel to find a suitable home.

“Protecting bats is always also a question of environmental preservation in the widest sense and this is clearly a reason why this agreement is so successful -- and so many governments have already signed up to it and many more are in the process of doing so,” Streit says.

European-wide protection planned

The agreement on the protection of bats came into force in 1994. Since then, the number of European countries who have signed up to the agreement has doubled. Now, 26 countries have all promised to save Dracula’s nocturnal friends. And Streit is optimistic that by the end of the year the number of states signed up to the protection code – under which they are required to produce regular reports on their bat-protecting activities - will exceed 30.

Although the agency is charged with the task of looking after the interests of the 37 different species of bat in Europe, a global agreement on how to protect the furry flying creatures does not exist as yet. There are 1,100 different species of bat worldwide, and finding a common position on how to protect them all is nearly impossible.

“The problem is the differences between the different species. Our European agreement on the protection of bats is a kind of prototype and we’ve begun to work on developing similar agreements under the auspices of the U.N. global convention in other parts of the world, for example in Asia, South America and South Africa,” Streit says.

Giving bats an image overhaul

But the tiny office doesn’t just concern itself with protecting Europe’s bats. Much of the U.N. bat protection agency’s work is devoted to changing the common perception of the bat as a screeching nocturnal nightmare most suited to a bit part in a horror film.

To this end, the agency organizes special bat days, where both adults and children are encouraged to discover more about the mammal, going on excursions where they have the opportunity to see bats up close and listen to them using special equipment.

The interest in such events increases every year, according to Streit. So much so, that Streit hopes he will soon be able to employ more people at the Bonn’s bat cave. It would seem that the U.N.’s bat protection agency may soon lose its title as the world’s smallest authority.

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