Mark Twain’s hometown goes to ‘bat’ for endangered species

Sodalis Nature Preserve established to permanently harbor and protect Indiana bats

As the childhood stomping grounds for a young Mark Twain, it bears the nickname America’s Hometown.

And Hannibal, Missouri is now dedicated to protecting another very important legacy.

Last week, the 185-acre Sodalis Nature Preserve—a community park and a nationally important bat habitat area—was officially unveiled after months of hard work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Conservation Fund and the City of Hannibal.

In recent years, biologists discovered that a former limestone mine under the Sodalis Nature Preserve is critically important hibernating habitat for about 168,000 federally endangered Indiana bats.

“There’s more to Hannibal than Mark Twain,” noted Hannibal Mayor James Hark during the Oct. 21 dedication ceremony.

“We are truly honored to partner . . . in the protection of this one-of-a-kind nature preserve, where Mark Twain as a youth brought home bats in his pockets from the ‘great caves, three miles below Hannibal,’ ” added Clint Miller, Midwest Project Director with The Conservation Fund.

In recent years, a fungus known as white-nose syndrome has decimated populations of hibernating bats in North America, causing millions of deaths.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has proclaimed Oct. 24 to 31 as National Bat Week to highlight the vital ecological and economic role that bats play in controlling insects and acting as pollinators.

Meanwhile, the permanent protection of important bat hibernation spaces, like the Sodalis Nature Preserve, is essential to the recovery of affected species like the Indiana bat.

Five other species, including the federally endangered gray bat and the federally threatened northern long-eared bat, are known to use the mine under the Sodalis Nature Preserve—where “bat gates” protect the winged creatures by allowing them to come and go, while keeping people out.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the City of Hannibal, will continue to monitor, manage and research Indiana bat populations on site. Funds have been allocated for property upkeep, and the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has ensured the bats are protected forever through a conservation easement.

“The preservation of Sodalis Nature Preserve (represents) one of the highest priorities for bat conservation in the Midwest,” says Shauna Marquardt, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Enbridge attempts to minimize the environmental footprint of our pipeline and facility projects whenever possible.

The Flanagan South Pipeline Mitigation Fund—designed to offset any impacts to endangered species and migratory birds, resulting from construction of our Flanagan South pipeline—funded the purchase of Sodalis Nature Preserve property and its management.

“Conservation and protection of the Indiana bat aligns with Enbridge’s philosophy of environmental stewardship,” says Mike Moeller, senior director of Enbridge’s U.S. Midcontinent Region, “and our desire to care for the land, air and water that matters to everyone.”

(TOP PHOTO: The Sodalis Nature Preserve in Hannibal, Missouri is critically important hibernating habitat for about 168,000 federally endangered Indiana bats.)