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No more cameras at Carlsbad Caverns

Photographers who flew in the face of a no-flash rule have led officials at Carlsbad Caverns to impose a total ban on picture-taking as the famous bats emerge each evening.
Mexican Free-Tailed Bats Emerge From Their Caves To Hunt
Thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the Carlsbad Caverns to hunt. Walter Meayers Edwards / National Geographic - Getty Imag
/ Source: The Associated Press

Photographers who flew in the face of a no-flash rule have prompted a total ban on picture-taking as Carlsbad Caverns' famous bats emerge each evening.

Several studies have documented that light — especially white light such as that from flash photography — disturbs the bats.

The park in southeastern New Mexico is home to an estimated 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats, as well as 15 other species of bats. In one of the park's main draws, an enormous cloud of bats emerges from a cave in a breathtaking stream each night at dusk to go hunting for insects.

Park officials said they want to avoid disturbing them as much as possible, and one way to do that is to eliminate photography, including video cameras, at the evening flights.

"As a technologically challenged person, I can't figure out how to turn off the flash on my own camera," park Superintendent John Benjamin said Monday. "The only way to prevent flash photography entirely is to eliminate cameras altogether."

The park said in a news release that a study of Mexican free-tail bats in Texas found that camera flashes and video-recorder lights caused animals emerging from a cave to veer away, and that a bank of television lights at the entrance stopped them from coming out at all. Other lights disoriented the bats, and some crashed into vegetation.

Scientists filming the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns in the 1970s illuminated the entrance with movie lights for five seconds at a time, and each time, the bats stopped emerging.

It's difficult to get high-quality photos of a bat flight under any circumstances, and the risks to the bats aren't worth the results most visitors get, the news release said.