Richard LaVal was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri in 1938. LaVal’s mother loved birds, and his father was a hunter, so began his exposure to the outdoors, and his fascination for catching and observing wild animals. Years later, LaVal took an interest in exploring caves, which touched off his lifelong love of bats.
After completing a BS degree, as well as serving time in the Army, LaVal found work at a printing plant in Indiana. There, Richard decided to take night courses in biology at a local community college. This decision led him to LSU grad school to study birds. After he finished his coursework at LSU he moved to Texas and studied under a professor who was researching bats in Latin America. The following summer, he took the famous Tropical Biology course offered in Costa Rica by the Organization for Tropical Studies.
After LaVal was awarded his PhD in Wildlife Science, he worked as an assistant to a famous mammalogist at the University of Kansas. While he was there, he was offered a job to do a years’ worth of research in Costa Rica. While studying bats in Monteverde, a local girl showed up and asked if he wanted a field assistant. That was his future wife, Meg. They were married in 1974 and later studied bats together as researchers in South Africa and Missouri.
“At first we wanted to plant organic gardens, raise goats… very idealistic young people we were.” After Richard and Meg began adopting children, of whom there are five, they needed more income to sustain their growing family. Meg began creating art to sell. Her stained glass windows can be found all over Monteverde, and even in San Jose. Richard became an Ecotourist guide, and along the way they helped found The Monterverde Institute, The Monteverde Conservation League, and the Cloud Forest School.
In 2000 Meg and Richard, along with Bob Carlson and Susana Salas, discussed building a mini-mall to host several tourist businesses. LaVal said, “No go unless we have a live bat exhibit.” With advice from friends, associates, researchers, and zoos, the Bat Jungle opened its doors in 2006.