Laguna, an ocelot, at the Texas Zoo in 2018.

Laguna, an ocelot, at The Texas Zoo in 2018.

Margarita drinkers of the Crossroads might not understand that their happiness – and maybe even their sanity – is closely tied to an endangered bat species. They can learn more while enjoying an evening of festivities and supporting the Texas Zoo at the Brew at the Zoo from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday.

Country-Western musicians Mark Sebby and Brandi Behlen will perform throughout the causal evening. Sebby’s debut single, “Friday Night,” recently hit the airwaves. Behlen is set to release her first album later this year.

Attire for the event is comfortable, and inspiration boards featuring country-chic outfit ideas for him and her are posted on the zoo’s website.

While relaxing to live music, guests can enjoy unlimited keg beer, one tequila tasting and concessions such as hot dogs and nachos with their admission ticket. Zoo staff will circulate at the event with zoo residents such as a turtle, bird and coati. Attendees will have opportunities to interact with the animals.

Exactly how they will interact is a “surprise,” said Liz Jensen, zoo executive director, who said she could not “spill the beans.” Tequila tasting will include bat-friendly brands such as Tequila Ocho with an informational graphic display about the relationship between bats and tequila.

Tequila is made from agaves, flowering plants that thrive in hot and arid regions, and certain species of bats rely on their flowers. The bats cross-pollinate much like bees, and one species is endangered, Jensen said.

“Bats are really important pollinators, and one problem in Mexico is that agaves are being harvested to make tequila before the flowers bloom, and those flowers need to be pollinated by the bats,” Jensen said. “Without pollinators, we would be in big trouble because a lot of food crops depend on it, so we are raising awareness.”

Several tequila companies have agreed to leave a certain percentage of their agave crops so these bats can continue to survive. Bottles of tequila are labeled in stores with a sticker that certifies them as bat-friendly.

”(Bats) are kind of maligned by a lot of people, and we want to change that,” Jensen said. “Unfortunately, they are persecuted too much and need to be looked at through a different lens. We need to change our perspectives.”

All bats are associated with vampire bats and Halloween, but more importantly, they carry rabies, which concerns people, and “rightfully so,” Jensen continued.

”It is important to be careful around bats,” she said. “But they do incredible things for us.”

The bats also are important because each of them consumes thousands of mosquitoes each night, which helps to control that pesky population. Eventually, Jensen wants to include evening observation of the Mexican free-tailed bats in Riverside Park in the educational programming.

The Texas Zoo aims to connect people to wildlife so they ultimately take action to protect the environment. Zoos across the country collectively are trying to get people involved in conservation efforts. That aspect of the zoo is growing in Victoria with the hire of a doctor of science who advises the staff in its research efforts.

About 80 ocelots exist in the wild in Texas, and while the Texas Zoo is home to four, Jensen is not sure how many live in other zoos. Ultimately, the zoo intends to contribute to ocelot research in partnership with Texas A&M-Kingsville.

The work conducted by the zoo has positive implications for the welfare of animals in the wild, Jensen said. For example, data logger tags used on zoo animals collect baseline information that can be used to better understand the animals’ needs and find markers for different types of behaviors. That information can be used in the field with their wild counterparts.

The Texas Zoo is a sustainability partner with the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, which focuses broadly on conservation of different species. In light of these conservation efforts, Jensen expressed gratitude to LyondellBasell for helping the zoo build a pollinator garden with flowers that attract pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

Money raised by Brew at the Zoo will support the zoo and its mission. Jensen expects the event to continue evolving year to year.

“That’s the gist: to raise awareness and get people to come out and enjoy the zoo in the evening,” Jensen said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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