One With Life at Bracken Cave

 [From September 11 to October 2, 2016, Tequila Aficionado Media, sponsored by 34 expressions representing 21 brands, embarked on an epic RV road show dubbed, The Heartland Tour.  In these next passages, we recount the historic–and epic–highlights.  *FTC Disclosure: Brands appearing on the Tequila Aficionado Dia de Los Muertos & Heartland Tour had to be vetted as Brand of Promise Nominees and paid a nominal fee to be on the tour.] 

Bat Fascination

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6From watching the campy Batman TV series, or seeing Michael Keaton’s classic Batman movie at least 8 times when it premiered back in 1989, or devouring vintage Dracula movies with Bela Lugosi, I’ve always been captivated by bats.

Despite my fascination with them, I’d only seen bats in captivity at zoos, or in film documentaries.  I’ve never actually seen them in the wild until our visit to Bracken Cave on the first leg of Tequila Aficionado’s 2016 Heartland Tour.

Bracken Cave, Texas

Also known as the Devil’s Sinkhole, it’s a mere 20 miles from San Antonio and houses the largest bat maternity colony in the world.  More than 15 million Mexican free-tail bats call Bracken Cave their summer home.

This enormous vertical cavern is considered to be the largest single-chamber cavern in Texas.  The opening is a shaft approximately 50 feet wide that drops 140 feet into the cavern.  The shaft then balloons to a diameter of over 320 feet and reaches a total depth of over 350 feet.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

Braken Cave:  The Largest Mammal Nursery on Earth

Every square foot of Bracken Cave is jam packed with gestating or nursing female bats (almost 500 per!) that return every March and April after wintering in Mexico, to give birth to their pups.

While it is the nectar feeding bats that service our beloved agaves, specifically One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6the lesser long-nosed bat that the “Batman of Mexico,” Rodrigo Medellin, has so tirelessly championed, along with the Tequila Interchange Project’s “bat friendly” tequila and mezcal certification program, the Mexican free-tail variety also plays an important role in agriculture.

In fact, the estimated 100 million free-tail bats living in Central Texas caves eat approximately 1000 tons of insects and agricultural pests nightly at altitudes of anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 feet feeding primarily on the cotton boll-worm moth (a.k.a. corn ear worm moth) that alone costs American farmers up to a billion dollars annually.

Bats Are Dying, Part 2

As we mentioned in the above article written during last year’s Dia de los Muertos Tequila & Mezcal Tour, not only is the industrialization of tequila and mezcal tampering with the bats’ migratory behavior, but a new killer, White-nose Syndrome (Pseudogymnoascus destructans), is also a threat.

Known as WNS, it is a cold-loving white fungus found on the wings and faces of infected bats.  It causes bats to awaken too often during hibernation and to use up stored fat reserves while flying in winter.  These creatures usually freeze or starve to death.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

First detected in 2006 in a cave in New York, it is still a mystery as to how this disease has spread so quickly (7 bat species, 26 states and 5 Canadian provinces, and counting).  The national park system, however, is doing its part to cut down on the spread of this epidemic.

Later on in our Heartland Tour at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, also a home to bats, hikers were asked to walk onto a soap soaked carpet for several feet after a shortened cave tour.  It is believed that tourists who visit national parks could be inadvertently spreading WNS via footwear.

Bat-nado!

Witnessing the appearance of 4 million bats from a true bat cave is a sight like no other.

The first sign that alerts onlookers are the groups of Peregrine falcons that prey on the Mexican free-tails.  These birds instinctively know when the first nightly pilgrims dare to ascend.

Let’s just say that not every bat makes it out of Bracken Cave alive.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6No flash photography is allowed so as not to upset the bats during their nightly emergence, and once photography is no longer possible, it’s time to just enjoy the phenomenon of the “bat-nado,” the counterclockwise vortex that the bats create when leaving the cave on their quest for food.

We stood wide eyed in quiet reverence as literally millions of bats flew overhead gathering speed and altitude to feed on the moths and insects that attack corn and cotton farms outside the city of San Antonio, and well beyond.

The fluttering of millions of pairs of wings sounded like rain lightly tapping on a tin roof.  The breeze created by their flight cooled the muggy air around us.

Just close your eyes and smile.

One With Life at Bracken Cave http://wp.me/p3u1xi-4x6

Open your eyes and smile.

By the light of the half moon, the waves of bats disappeared like clouds of smoke over the tree tops of Bracken Cave reserve.

One With Life

Later that evening in the RV park, safely tucked away for the night, we selected One With Life certified organic tequila to toast our first magical experience on OWL_labelsthe Heartland Tour.

On the inside label of every batch of One With Life tequila there is a “tequila fortune cookie” or inspirational message.  Ours read–

“Wherever you go, be fully there.”

And, if you listen closely, you might even hear a bat flutter by.

***

Enjoy these few minutes of the bat emergence from Bracken Cave.

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Bats Are Dying!

1016151502aDuring Tequila Aficionado Media’s historic Dia de los Muertos Tequila Tour, Lisa Pietsch and I paid a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.  Before exploring the awesome depths of the caves and the formation of stalactites and stalagmites, we were also met with this alarming notice.

Even though it’s the Mexican freetail bats that are suffering man’s encroachment onto their turf, all bats are going through a hard time, including the “tequila bat.”

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Vicious Circle

The industrialization of the tequila making process, and to a certain extent some mezcals,  has made the preservation of the agave (blue, espadin, etc.) vital to the longevity of these industries and to the survival of the people who rely upon them for their existence.

It’s no secret that the weber blue agave is susceptible to diseases now that it is not allowed to bloom a quiote or stem for pollination by the lesser long-nosed bats.

By not letting the agave run the length of its lifespan, it is also upsetting the eco-system and natural migratory patterns of bats that rely on the agave for sustenance.

The agave gene pool has been tampered with by the explosive growth of the 1016151541tequila and mezcal industries.

The plant’s natural defenses against diseases and pests are compromised.  This means that pesticides are required to defend the valuable agave crops against diseases and pests.

In turn, the pesticides are hazardous to the health of harvesters, bats, bees and birds alike.  Not to mention the eventual pollution to the soil, ground water and water supplies.

It’s a vicious circle that agave growers can remedy by simply letting a portion of their agave crops grow naturally.

What Can Consumers Do?

Look for certified organic tequilas, mezcals, or sotols for starters.  These must follow certain protocols which prohibit the use of pesticides in order to earn the USDA seal.

1016151438aIn addition, though considered a marketing buzz phrase, look for agave spirits that are produced with agave or sotol that has been “wild harvested.”  Chances are, none of them are using pesticides.

Secondly, seek agave spirits brands that claim to be “bat friendly.”

According to Angelica Menchaca Rodriguez, whose PhD studies are concerning this very subject, look for mezcal made with maguey papalote (agave cupreata) since “…this species cannot reproduce without the intervention of bats and can be found mainly in the state of Guerrero.”

The Tequila Interchange Project is working with Rodrigo Medellin–the Batmanbatfriendly of Mexico–in the pilot stages of a massive Bat Friendly Tequila & Mezcal Recognition Program that will likely include some beloved brands of tequilas and mezcals.

In the meantime, be kind to bats.  Build bat houses for them to roost in as suggested by the Bat World Sanctuary.

The bat you save could be your best sipping buddy.

 

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Salud!!