Toronto Zoo and the NWMO progress ongoing study of bat populations in Ontario

Photo of a bat.

To celebrate Bat Week 2021, Toronto Zoo and the NWMO share an update on ongoing studies of bat populations in Ontario.

Halloween might be scary, but bats are nothing to fear – they play a vital role in maintaining the balance in ecosystems. That is why the Toronto Zoo’s Native Bat Conservation Program, in partnership with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), is conducting research to close knowledge gaps in the ecology of Ontario’s bat population. The goal of this work is to contribute to conservation efforts now and in the future, which starts with studies to better understand bat populations and trends.


Of the eight bat species living in Ontario, seven species were found in the South Bruce area, and at least three species in the Ignace area. In the South Bruce area, researchers observed several healthy females and juveniles – providing an early indication that bats of several species are reproducing. As expected, higher levels of bat activity were recorded near forested areas, wetlands and water features. Data will continue to be collected and analyzed as this research partnership advances.


“Knowledge of bat populations is a critical component in efforts to preserve biodiversity and promote conservation. This early data allows us to ask deeper questions to guide future targeted research that we’ll carry out in the coming years,” said Toby Thorne, Native Bat Conservation Program Coordinator at the Toronto Zoo. “We look forward to continuing to share our learnings to help people to better understand the world around them and build public interest in conserving and protecting the natural environment.”


This partnership includes developing and testing innovative monitoring techniques that can improve how bats are studied in the future. Data was collected using acoustic bat monitors in both regions, and in the South Bruce area, researchers also initiated temporary capture and release, as well as radio telemetry studies.


“Through this research partnership, we are now starting to build our understanding of bat populations and trends, specifically in the South Bruce and Ignace areas,” said Melissa Mayhew, Senior Environmental Scientist at the NWMO. “This data will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals so that future projects and conservation programs can benefit from the work we have done together.”


As part of this partnership, the Toronto Zoo also implemented a successful community science pilot program in the South Bruce area, where members of the public collaborated with professional scientists to collect and analyze data related to local bat populations. A total of 15 volunteers were engaged, and 18 monitoring sites were sampled over 116 nights.


This research partnership has been ongoing since 2020 and includes the South Bruce and Ignace areas, the two areas currently involved in the NWMO’s site selection process for a deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel.


Under the terms of this five-year agreement, which is built on the foundation of both organizations’ mutual and ongoing commitment to the protection of the environment and the people within it, the NWMO will invest over $1 million into studies of Ontario’s bat populations.


This work continues to benefit from the support of residents who live in the study areas. If you have any questions about bats or notice any bat activity – particularly roosting in manmade structures or bats around caves – please get in touch with the experts at the Toronto Zoo by emailing More information can also be found at and on the Native Bat Conservation Program’s website, including helpful tips on how you can help support conservation efforts.


About the Toronto Zoo

Your Toronto Zoo’s mission is to connect people, animals and conservation science to fight extinction, and our vision is a world where wildlife and wild spaces thrive. An iconic tourist attraction and Conservation organization, the Toronto Zoo boasts a number of leading programs for helping wildlife and their natural habitats – from species reintroduction to reproductive research. A world-class educational centre for people of all ages, the Toronto Zoo is open every day, except Dec. 25, and attracts approximately 1.2 million guests each year.


About the NWMO

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization tasked with the safe, long-term storage of Canada’s used nuclear fuel in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

We are implementing Canada’s plan to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository. The plan is based on years of public input, Indigenous Knowledge, international scientific consensus, and best practices from around the world.

Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2024, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Ignace area and South Bruce, both in Ontario.

Transparent and accountable, the NWMO works in close co-operation with communities, all levels of government, national and international regulators, Indigenous peoples, industry, academia, and civil society organizations.