How a famous biologist spent his career saving ‘the tequila bat’ and rectifying the image drawn in Bram Stoker’s classic story.
By Vicki Croke
On the nights that the teenage Rodrigo Medellin didn’t have enough cow’s blood stored in the freezer’s ice-cube trays to feed the 10 pet vampire bats he kept in the bathroom, his sister would help him draw some of the life-giving fluid from his own veins. Then, from behind the bathroom door, the winged mammals would stir with anticipation, recognizing his approach. When he walked in the room, he remembers, the bats “were ready.”
No wonder he grew up loving Bram Stoker’s classic horror story “Dracula.” And, no wonder he would become known as “The Bat Man of Mexico,” the high-achieving, much–honored conservationist who has saved bats, and, in so doing, has also ended up helping Mexico’s most famous export—tequila, which depends on those pollinating mammals.
We caught up with the 57-year-old biologist at the New England Aquarium, which was screening the wonderful David Attenborough/BBC film about Medellin and his work: “Natural World: The Bat Man of Mexico.”
Medellin, dressed in a black sweater and black slacks, is as irresistible and hypnotic as that gothic Transylvanian Count, though minus the suave creepiness.
Medellin was already a mammal-obsessed 11-year-old kid who, in the late 1960s, landed a stint on a Mexican TV quiz show called “The 64,000 Peso Challenge.” The first young student to do so. He didn’t win the top prize, but over several appearances, his astounding knowledge about animals drew the attention of a dean at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, where he now teaches.
The dean invited him on field expeditions, and members of the department put the first bat into his hands when he was 12. He was hooked. “That blew my mind away,” he says.