The Jornada Bat Caves, located in southern New Mexico, are home to a protected population of Mexican free-tailed bats.
Only five or so cave complexes across the U.S. host larger populations of this bat species (the largest is the Eckert James River Bat Cave in Texas). The Mexican free-tailed bats occupy the caves from March through October, with a maternal colony of well over 100,000.
And, they are not alone.
Seven other species of bats have been identified at the Jornada site, including Allen’s big-eared bat and the spotted bat. In addition, millions of migratory bats use the cave as a stop-over site during the warm season.
Despite these staggering numbers, bat populations around the world are experiencing dramatic declines. For example, it has been estimated that the population of Mexican free-tailed bats in Carlsbad Caverns once numbered in the millions—today those numbers are under 500,000.
Our Work in New Mexico
The Nature Conservancy recognized decades ago the significance of the Jornada Bat Caves and the site’s importance to the future survival of bats. We have actively worked to find a way to end the biggest threat—unregulated use and guano mining.
Bat guano was mined from the Jornada Bat Caves in the late 19th century, and guano was still being removed from the site well into the 1980s for use as fertilizer. Miners blasted holes in the ceiling of the cave to ease the removal of guano, which limited roosting habitat for bats by creating light shafts into the lava tubes.
In the late 1980s, the Conservancy approached Tenneco—a Houston-based industrial corporation that owned the mineral rights in the area—about protection of the site. In 1993, the company donated the mineral rights associated with 5,175 acres including the Jornada Bat Caves to TNC.
Shortly after, Ted Turner acquired the property as part of his purchase of the 358,000-acre Armendaris Ranch. With his help and assistance from the University of New Mexico, the Conservancy got to work restoring the Jornada Caves for the bats.
The future of the Jornada Bat Caves looks bright. Ranch staff has taken important steps to limit access and protect the cave site from disturbance, and the Conservancy continues to work with Mr. Turner on other efforts to ensure the health of bat populations into the future.