The Italian Almanac

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Batcam

Nature fans will soon be able to tune into a Big Brother-type webcast capturing the daily life of a colony of bats living in a reserve on the eastern coast of Italy. A ``Batcam`` has been set up to record the hunting, sleeping, eating and mating habits of bats in the Worldwide Fund for Nature`s Calanchi di Atri Reserve, which will be broadcast live on the internet.

``We have been studying bats in Calanchi di Atri since 2004, during which time we have identified 13 species,`` explained the reserve`s director, Adriano De Ascentiis. ``As well as spending time in the reserve, these animals also hang out in the network of caves and tunnels underneath the nearby village of Atri and sometimes even in its historic buildings``. ``For example, the Palazzo Ducale, which is also the town hall, has a bat nursery in its loft, which 50 bats have chosen as their breeding site``.

The WWF has spearheaded a campaign in Italy in recent years aimed at educating the public about bats, which remain a source of superstitious fear for some. A number of regional governments have earmarked funding for the construction of wooden shelters, aimed at encouraging bats to set up home. The Rome city council has also announced a bat rescue centre, with specialized medical and rehabilitation units for injured animals.

Bats, the only mammal able to fly, have been a protected animal in Italy since 1939. The law banning bat hunting was introduced in recognition of their crucial role in containing insect populations. Bats are also protected by a number of European Union agreements as well as a Europe-wide accord known as Eurobats. But while some local populations are threatened, bats are generally thriving, accounting for 20% of all mammal species worldwide. Despite their bloodsucking reputation, most bats are insectivores, meaning they have to migrate or hibernate during winter.

The Batcam broadcasts, designed for specialists interested in studying the animals as well as members of the public, will shortly go online at the reserve`s website,