Background The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) mission is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
The Service’s International Affairs Program delivers on this mission
through its financial and technical assistance programs by supporting strategic projects that deliver measurable conservation results for priority species and their habitats around the world.
In 2021, the U. S. Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding economic crisis.
The Act provides funds to the Service to “address wildlife disease outbreaks before they become pandemics” via research and extension activities.
Because bats (Order Chiroptera) have been identified as an international focal taxon for the prevention of disease spillovers and pandemics, the International Affairs Program is focused on the need for greater capacity development to address interactions between bats, people, and the environment.
The Service has a strong track record of working closely with national governments, U. S. agencies, and a range of other partners to ensure a strategic, evidence-based approach to capacity development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
This funding opportunity aligns with the Service’s mission, including the commitment to international cooperation and the conservation of endangered or threatened species in foreign countries as authorized and encouraged by the Endangered Species Act.
Funding Opportunity MENTOR Model Description:
The Service currently supports multi-year cooperative agreements to develop the capacity of conservationists through the series of USFWS MENTOR Fellowship programs.
Abu-Bakarr, I., Bakarr, M., Gelman, N., Johnny, J., Kamanda, P., Killian, D., .
“Capacity and leadership development for wildlife conservation in sub-Saharan Africa:
Assessment of a programme linking training and mentorship.” Oryx, 1- 9. doi:1 0. 1017/S003060532100085 5. ] MENTOR programs establish transdisciplinary teams of emerging conservation leaders who work together to problem solve on threats to wildlife, such as the unsustainable commercial bushmeat trade and uncontrolled extractive industry exploitation, as well as species conservation focusing on pangolins, manatees, chimpanzees, and fish.
For a given MENTOR program, a lead recipient organization works with the Service to further co-design the program.
Teams of eight to ten MENTOR Fellows are identified and assembled to participate in rigorous academic and field-based training that emphasizes technical conservation skills, as well as team building, conflict management, environmental governance, outreach, and leadership.
Training occurs through a combination of virtual and in-person learning.
Fellows learn adaptive management in order to design pilot conservation projects, which they then work as a team to implement in 8-12 months.
Fellows work with technical and capacity development Mentors who help them to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
At the end of the 18-month program, Fellows earn a post-graduate certificate, diploma, or degree from a national or regional university or college.
As the program has grown, international MENTOR Forums serve an important purpose of bringing together Fellows from the series of MENTOR programs to network and focus on conservation leadership.
The first MENTOR Forum, held in 2020 in Sierra Leone, included over 30 participants from the seven USFWS MENTOR programs.
The Forum sought to share and evaluate the MENTOR programs implemented across Africa over the last decade.
The three-day bilingual meeting provided an opportunity for mentoring, exchanging technical information, sharing approaches to address common threats to wildlife, examining experiences on species conservation, and synthesizing lessons on capacity development initiatives for conservation leadership.
Having Fellows from different MENTOR programs meet in-person is critical for forging future collaboration and helping wildlife champions have the support they need to address conservation challenges.
Hosting regular MENTOR Forums is a key component of the MENTOR Model.
Using species celebration days, such as World Pangolin Day on the third Saturday each February, have played a key role in the MENTOR programs as they help the general public to recognize and celebrate different animals, but they can also be a time for launching species outreach campaigns and seeking policy changes.
MENTOR Subject Focus:
The Service is soliciting proposals for MENTOR-Bat, a global conservation fellowship program focused on the linkages between the health of bats, people, and the environment.
Having co-evolved with a variety of viral pathogens, bats have become reservoir hosts to many pathogens and, therefore, live with the viruses without suffering from the effects of the disease.
Disturbance to forest and cave habitats and direct disturbance to bat roosts disrupts this delicate host-pathogen balance, resulting in bats shedding the virus, potentially infecting other animals.
Such disturbances may also change the bat hosts’ ranging patterns, resulting in greater contact with humans.
For example, in West and Central Africa, the emergence of Ebola virus outbreaks has been associated with areas of elevated forest fragmentation Rulli 2017].
Broadly, the greater the human disturbance of bats and their habitat, the greater the risk of zoonotic disease spillover to humans.
The goal of the MENTOR-Bat program is to promote healthy environments where bats and humans coexist with reduced risk of disease transmission.
The proposed MENTOR-Bat program should address the relationships between bats, people, and environmental health that impact the potential for spillover and pandemic interventions such as:
The influence of habitat disturbance on the stress and health of bats and the impact this may have on increasing potential zoonotic disease spillover.
The relationship between the health status of bats and the degree to which they shed viruses and thus pose a zoonotic disease risk.
The role that the consumption and trade of bats plays in the risk of zoonotic disease transmission through direct human contact.
The importance of public attitudes and messaging towards bats in influencing bat persecution, human-bat contact, and opportunities for zoonotic disease transmission.
The impact of education and outreach regarding safer practices and coexistence initiatives on the nature of human-bat interactions and zoonotic disease transmission risk.
How understanding of ecosystem services and economic value provided by bats influences habitat management policy and contributes to public perception of bats.