28th April 2020

A sad goodbye to Dr Tom Kunz

(C) Vernon Doucette

We were very sad to learn of the death of Dr Thomas H. Kunz, one of the world's leading authorities in bat biology, who passed away on 13th April 2020. Dr Kunz spent over 40 years fighting for bat conservation. Many bat people in the UK will have known him, if only through his publications on bat biology. He was a professor at Boston University, an exceptional mentor and an inspiration to dozens of his students, colleagues, and the wider community of bat conservationists. The Boston Globe has a full feature obituary for Dr Kunz which captures him perfectly, according to his family.

Our thoughts and condolences are with Dr Kunz’s family, friends and colleagues. His death is a sad loss for the bat research and conservation community. We think a fitting way to remember Dr Kunz is by sharing the memories of two people who knew him personally.

Dr Allyson Walsh: “There are some people that change the trajectory of your life. I first met Tom when I sat down to dinner at a Zoological Society Symposium in London, with not one, but two senior scientists and legends in their fields; Professor Paul Racey and Professor Tom Kunz. I had just delivered my first professional talk on the UK National Bat Monitoring Programme, and had blanked part way thru. I felt totally out of my depth. When I sat down, Tom immediately starting talking to me and assured me he forgot half of what he had intended to say as well, gently putting me at ease. A few years later, he helped me gain entry to the USA and supported my quest to develop global research projects for Bat Conservation International and The Lubee Foundation (now Lubee bat Conservancy). I worked alongside many of his students and protégés, and learned he was a truly collaborative scientist, tirelessly nurturing new students and multi-disciplinary projects.

A sad goodbye to Dr Tom Kunz

(C) Allyson Walsh

One summer, Tom wanted some regular samples from bats at the Gainesville bat house. Each time he visited we would climb up to take samples and then sit eating Oreos watching the bats emerge. He loved to eat junk food while doing fieldwork. Working with Tom taught me two key life lessons. Number one: to be successful yourself you must contribute to the success of others. At the many conferences we attended around the globe, I witnessed Tom repeatedly putting this into action. Always inspiring, inclusive and encouraging new students, just like he had encouraged me those many years before. Number two: always dance. Tom’s less scientific trademark was to burn off the calories he consumed in Twizzlers and Oreos by dancing wildly after conference dinners. He was most probably a better scientist than dancer, but dancing is how I will remember him.”

A sad goodbye to Dr Tom Kunz

(C) Vernon Doucette

Professor Paul Racey: “I first met Tom at an International Bat Research Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1978. A year later, I persuaded the UK Mammal Society to devote its Autumn meeting to The Ecology of Bats and invited Tom (together with Brock Fenton, Merlin Tuttle and Jack Bradbury). The UK mammal establishment thought bats were ‘too difficult’ to work on but I knew that the North Americans had found ways of doing so. The meeting was a great success not least because members of the Natural Environment Research Council’s Terrestrial Life Sciences Committee were in the audience (and they held the purse strings). Tom and the other speakers came up to Aberdeen after the meeting – the first of several visits by Tom and the beginning of an enduring professional friendship.

He invited me to write a chapter for The Ecology of Bats – published in 1982 and this was very important international recognition. I also contributed to both editions of Ecology and Behaviour of Bats and after the international Conference he convened in Boston in 1995, we co-edited Bat Biology and Conservation of Bats, based on papers presented at the conference.

I remember mist-netting with him in Danum Valley in Sabah where we were prospecting for study sites for PhD students and also at one end of the Dead Sea, although I have no recollection of why we were there…..

Tom was always supportive of his colleagues – such a friendly and positive character, with immense drive and energy and an infectious smile. His serious accident in 2011, when he still had so much more to give, was a tragedy that affected the entire bat community, particularly those of us that knew him personally.”

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