How many people do you know who can honesty say they have a distinct species of mammal named after them? (Reptile, even? Insect?)
Not many, I'd imagine—
Dobbs Ferry conservationist and researcher Joe Walston recently learned that a very—err—special-looking creature discovered in Cambodia will now bear his family's name: 'The Walston's tube-nosed bat.'
“I am flattered and humbled to have this rare species named after me,” said Walston, taking time from a global meeting about tiger conservation in India to talk about the bat. "But I must admit that this has made me the subject of a huge amount of mockery from friends and family."
As the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Executive Director for Asia Programs, Walston travels around the world crusading on behalf of our planet's dwindling numbers of endangered species and the natural habitats in which they live. This week, it's about tigers and protecting the approximately 3,200 that remain in the wild.
Before moving to Dobbs Ferry last year, Walton, his wife Naomi and two elementary school-aged children lived in Cambodia and Gabon, in Africa's Congo Basin.
To show appreciation for Walston’s work to save bats and other wildlife in Southeast Asia, a group of scientists there dubbed the newly-discovered bat species Murina walstoni, or Walston’s tube-nosed bat.
"I was completely surprised," Walston said. "It was about a year between when the species was discovered and when it was named, so it came as somewhat of a shock."
Scientists still know little about Southeast Asia’s tube-nosed bats, so named for their extraordinary nostrils. They say several new species have been described in recent years.
Walston began studying bats in Vietnam in 1994 to complete his Masters. In 2000, he found a critically-endangered bat species in Cambodia that had only been caught once before: in 1912 from a cave in India nearly 2,000 miles away. He has been director for WCS’s Asia programs since 2010.
This last year has been the first time his children Elsa, 7, and Sam, 5, have lived in a developed country.
"There is a nice cross-section of people in Dobbs Ferry," said Walston, who grew up in Cambridge, England. He said his children are happy at —even if they do keep hampsters and guinea pigs as classroom pets instead of elephants.
Despite his sense of humor about being the name behind such an odd-looking creature, Walton is deeply connected to the importance of researching and protecting wildlife worldwide.
“Important research like this confirms the richness of the region for biodiversity and increases the urgency to protect wild places while there's still time,” he said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society is based out of the Bronx Zoo. The organization operates 500 field conservation projects in 60 countries. Read more about their work here.