Monitoring the bat that returned from the dead

by ZSL on

Cuba is known for its salsa, rum and tropical beaches, but did you know it’s also a hotspot for many endemic EDGE species? 

Cuban greater funnel-eared bat
The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat was thought to be extinct

ZSL’s Dr Oliver Wearn and Dr Carolina Soto Navarro are working to conserve the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Joined by two Erasmus Darwin Barlow Expedition attendants, Josh Blackman and Katia Sanchez Ortiz, they embarked on an exhibition to Cuba to do just that.  

A priority for ZSL’s EDGE of Existence Programme that is found solely on the island is the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat, but very little is known about it. In fact, it was thought to be extinct until a population was found in a remote underground cave, Cueva La Barca, in 1992.

This cave provides the hot, humid conditions apparently needed for breeding and is 40°C in the deepest chamber! It’s home to Cuban boas, giant crabs and 13 species of bat, but the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat is special as it’s only found in this one cave, it’s evolutionarily unique and is also threatened. 

recording calls of the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat
Devices were used to listen for and record the ultrasonic call of the bat

Its inherent vulnerability due to its small population size is a threat to the species, but there is also another concern. The cave lies a mere 250 metres inside the boundary of the Guanahacabibes National Park, and if the bats are foraging outside of the park, they could be vulnerable to future threats such as habitat destruction due to logging. So it was important for the team to learn more about this species and its distribution patterns to protect the population. 

Using sound recording devices, it was possible to listen for and record the ultrasonic call of the bat to find out where it goes each night, and how far away from the cave it ventures. Camera trap surveys were also used to find out which holes it was using to exit the cave, and then assess the surrounding forest for invasive species, such as feral pigs and black rats. Carolina also trialled 3D mapping of the cave through photogrammetry – using photography to survey the area. 

The expedition gave a great insight into techniques used to study the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat and also shaped invaluable relationships with local collaborators and helped to identify new prospective EDGE Fellows.

The hope is that the findings will help to shape future conservation efforts to protect this important EDGE species and its habitat. 

Find out more about ZSL's EDGE of Existence 

Select a blog

Careers at ZSL

Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.

Nature at the heart of global decision making

At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions. 

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!


We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.


From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.


A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About

Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.