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Environmental education

"But Do Vampires Exist?"

"There are bats that attack people and suck their blood," says the 13-year-old Luis and looks expectantly at the German biologist Felix Matt. The Swabian smiles and explains again to the eight children of the environmental project patiently that these stories belong to the world of myths.

Bats have a bad image. Infamous as vampires that attack cattle and occasionally also people, the small mammals are persecuted and killed by people.
In fact, only one of 130 bat species in Ecuador feeds on blood. Cows, pigs, dogs and birds are on the menu, but unlike Dracula, the bats do not attack and suck dry te helpless victims.
They land near the sleeping animals, come carefully closer and bite shortly with their small and sharp teeth. Then, the mammals that weigh only several grams lick the blood coming from the wound.

In their education projects, organizations like NCl and Fundación de Protección del animal try to explain to the pupils the roles of various animal species in the eco-system and to dispel their prejudice.
Today, the session on bats is part of the "Intercambio Ecuador - Alemania" project. At the same time an identically structured programme takes place in Germany. The classes in Germany and Ecuador exchange via Internet what they have learnt and compare the plants, animals and farming.

Since the Moon is very bright at the moment and the nights are not quite dark, the bats fly extremely cautious between the trees. At this time it is almost impossible to catch one of the small mammals. Therefore, Felix can show only slides of various bat species this afternoon.
With their eyes wide open, the children from 8 to 13 years observe the unusually formed heads of the diverse bats living in Ecuador.
Alejandro is fascinated by the longish mouth of one of the bats. "It will eat large animals and that is why it needs such a large mouth," assumes the 10-year-old. "This bat needs such a large mouth because it has a long tongue," explains Felix and shows a slide with a calyciform blossom. "The bat flutters like a hummingbird in front of the blossom and sticks out its very long tongue in order to reach the nectar." The biologist bends over the blossom next to the screen and imitates the tongue of the bat with his arm.
"If you want, you can taste the nectar with your tongues." At the table there is a vase with several large blossoms. Fernando may taste it first and when he smiles and says it tastes like sugared water, the other children do not hesitate anymore. All push around the vase and if they cannot lick the nectar they try to reach some with their fingers.

The practice is followed by some theory. Almut hangs out some pictures with descriptions.
Felix explains to the children how important the bats are for the pollination and proliferation of local plants. Without the tireless involvement of the small animals that are the only flying mammals many trees would not grow in the region.
"But there are also many bloodsuckers," Luis is not quite convinced of the new piece of information yet. "More than in the past, that is right," says Felix and with the topic of blood all of them are wide-awake again. "But we are to blame for it. Before Columbus came here, the Incas had no cows. At this time only few bats lived here that ate blood. Today, many families have cows on the pastures. And that is like with us people. Where there is enough to eat, there are also many hungry mouths."
The little Marta yawns and reassures the older Luis: "But it does not matter because the bats do not like our blood." The others nod approvingly. Felix looks satisfied at the children. They have understood the case.

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