Step 1 - Find someone to train with
Volunteering or training with a local wildlife rehabilitation center, sanctuary or an individual bat care specialist who is permitted to rehabilitate mammals is an important first step that will allow you to experience first hand what is involved in caring for bats. Click here to locate someone in your area who may be accepting volunteers. Note that some centers and individuals may require that you are vaccinated against rabies before volunteering. (Scroll down for information on pre-exposure rabies inoculations.)
Step 2 - Obtaining a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit
Regulations regarding the rehabilitation of indigenous bat species vary significantly from state to state. These regulations are typically determined by state wildlife agencies or fish and game divisions. To find the specific requirements that may apply to you, begin by contacting your state Department of Natural Resources (click here to find your state).
Some bats are federally listed as threatened or endangered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fish and Wildlife Service. These animals are federally protected and require special permits for handling and emergency care. Even a veterinarian is required to hold valid permits for the care of endangered species, except under certain circumstances. For example, a veterinarian can render emergency first aid for an endangered species as needed, but must turn it over to the appropriate authorities once stabilized. In addition, each state has its own list of threatened or endangered animals. These animals are protected regionally and may also come under special permitting requirements.
Step 3. Pre-exposure Rabies Inoculations
Bats, like other mammals, are susceptible to the rabies virus. Although they are not considered to be asymptomatic carriers of the disease, some species are natural reservoirs of the virus. The rabies virus can be transmitted to a susceptible host through contact of saliva or nervous tissue of a rabid animal with deep body tissues (as takes place with a bite) or with mucous membranes (e.g., nose, eyes, and mouth). All rehabilitators considering the captive care of mammals should receive pre-exposure rabies vaccinations. This involves a series of injections (usually three) given over a period of several weeks. Bats should not be cared for until you have received the entire series of vaccinations.
Although relatively painless, the vaccine is often costly, as much as $200 per shot. It can sometimes be obtained more inexpensively if a group of people receive immunizations at the same time. Members of wildlife rescue organizations or employees of zoos or veterinary clinics often organize vaccination schedules with a local physician so that all members receive immunizations from the same multi-dose vile of vaccine, thereby decreasing the cost of each injection because the remaining doses are not discarded.
Bat rehabilitators should have their rabies titer checked annually. This is a measure of the level of rabies antibodies in your blood. If it drops below an acceptable level (1:5 as recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC), a booster vaccination will be recommended.