The Expendability of Bulgaria's Bats
Expendable, adjective, (1) open to sacrifice in the interests of gaining an objective, especially a military one.
In early September, Bulgaria's capital dusted the dirt off its shoulders to welcome the star-studded cast of the Hollywood action movie "The Expendables 2".
To demonstrate Bulgaria's pride over the fact that it is providing the filming locations for the blockbuster, an exclusively macho delegation consisting of Prime Minister Borisov, Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov, and, unsurprisingly, football star Hristo Stoichkov, rushed to meet and greet the celebrities.
Gripped by the collective exaltation at the high-profile visit, Bulgaria's Ministry of Environment and Water gave the green light to shooting at the Devetashka Cave, a natural landmark of national and international importance and a home to 13 protected bat species, two of them considered globally endangered.
The permission to shoot was granted despite the fact that domestic legislation only allows for activities related to tourism or scientific research to take place at the site.
After the Hollywood legends left the set, an inspection conducted by environmentalists revealed the heavy toll on the natural habitat.
The experts reported that the bats had been woken from hibernation and were facing death by exhaustion or starvation.
Even if they could go back into hibernation, biologists said, the flying mammals' chances of making it until summer would be severely reduced because their energy reserves would be prematurely depleted due to the uncustomary activity.
However, the disturbed bats might not be able to re-hibernate because their home turned into a noisy top-notch tourist attraction after "The Expendables 2" rebuilt the bridge leading to the Devetashka Cave and left it as a "gift" for the country.
The inspection conducted by environmental experts showed that the cave was inhabited by as little as 10 400 bats, while in the winter of 2010 they had been over 35 000.
The biologists found dead bats from three species which had fallen from the cave ceiling, their carcasses bearing easily discernible signs of exhaustion.
The check showed that the movie crew had violated the terms of the permit, entering the dark part of the cave and engaging in a variety of particularly noisy activities.
The European Commission and a number of global environmental organizations filed inquiries as to why the situation had been allowed to unfold.
Bulgaria's Ministry of Environment and Waters responded with its habitual one-liner: There will be fines!
What does the story go to show?
The story goes to show that Bulgaria's bats are expendable.
It also shows that the Ministry of Environment and Water is more of a Ministry for Selling Environment and Water.
The irony of it all is that this is happening in 2011, The Year of the Bat, as declared by the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and The Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS).