My name is Mitch Gilley, and with this blog I hope to get you all acquainted with the daily workings of Bat World Sanctuary along with me. While I’ve written for Bat World for a while now, I only have four days as a full-time volunteer worker, which means that just as I’m getting a handle on what I’ve been taught so far, I’m also seeing just how much more there is to learn.
You might wonder how one finds themselves quitting a perfectly adequate and very steady job to instead come into contact with guano, mealworms and half-chewed fruit every day. The short answer: Peekaboo and Ichabod. The long answer: well, it’s long, but here goes.
On October 31st (yes, Halloween) of last year, I happened across an injured Mexican free tail in my previous employer’s warehouse where I worked. Being someone who’s always hated to see animals suffer, it broke my heart to see the bat who would eventually be christened Ichabod by Facebook drag himself across the warehouse; being someone who was very affected by a school presentation by Amanda Lollar as a boy, I knew full well that help was close by and that I could get him to it. Ichabod himself was putting forth nothing less than heroic effort – you try climbing a bay door when your wrist is broken and swollen up to twice its size – but the fact remained that he couldn’t fly, and a flightless bat in the wild is not long for this world.
It wasn’t the smoothest bat rescue ever undertaken, but eventually he was collected as gently as possible thanks to Bat World’s online how-to and taken to one of the best places in the world for an injured bat to be. I ran a blog at the time and spent much of the next month writing up the story before kicking off an impromptu email to Amanda asking how poor Ichabod was faring. I was genuinely curious, but the story also needed closure.
Word came back, and from one of my childhood heroines no less, that Ichabod was well, but that his wrist had been too badly hurt for him to be able to fly again, so he’d be a lifelong resident of Bat World Sanctuary. Word also came back that Amanda wanted to share my blog on Bat World’s Facebook page once it was ready. A quick check confirmed that something like 40,000 people would end up reading it, and while I’d had previous experience with a previous mass incursion to my blog, it was still with a good and strong case of nerves that I proceeded.
Still, all was well, and then Dottie Hyatt, the Vice President of Bat World, asked me to volunteer my writing services. Now, I will at this point let you in on a well-kept secret among writers: we are all egotistical, despite whatever other positive character traits we might have. It’s not a dig, it’s simply inherent to being the kind of person who says to themselves “You know what? The stuff I think? It’s awesome, and I’m going to tell everyone.” Between this and the high esteem in which I held the people asking, I instantly said yes.
Before I knew it, I was spending my days tending the bats directly, preparing their food, cleaning their cages, feeding the ones who’ve gotten used to me already and attempting to woo the ones that haven’t. This includes Peekaboo, because while she gave me her blessing on my very first visit to Bat World – I was crafty and used a passion fruit shampoo so I would smell edible – she remains a little shy. This is no doubt a shrewd plot to prompt me to bribe her with honeydew, which is working flawlessly.
I see what’s possible in my fellow volunteer Angela, with whom Peekaboo is utterly in love. She’d been working selflessly seven days a week until my arrival was able to offer some days off, and I’m told that Peekaboo was beside herself with joy upon Angela’s return, as evidenced by the picture posted to Bat World’s Facebook on Sunday. She doesn’t normally swing on that toy, that was almost certainly celebratory.
And then, of course, there’s Amanda. With her, bats that have done nothing but shrink away from both Angela and myself come right up to her for their morning treats. Little Jamaican fruit bats will flit past and pluck honeydew from her hand. Even the very shy flying foxes, some of which were taken from places in which humans treated them very badly, will approach her without reservation. It’s interesting to watch these extraordinarily wary, reticent animals come up to her. I’ve only been there a few days now, but that’s long enough to get the sense that it’s very difficult to win their trust, and it’s clear that Amanda won it a long time ago. They are entirely different animals around her. Except for Peekaboo, for whom all humans are mere pairs of stilts.
It certainly makes you wonder what the other bats think of her.
There’s so much more to say: the experience of stepping into first Bat World Sanctuary, and then into its inner sanctum, the flight cages, is easily a long post unto itself, which is precisely what I’m going to do.