In the year 2000, Van Gogh, a Mexican free-tail bat, was experiencing independence in his first summer of life. From what we can deduce, he became caught in a pre-dawn thunderstorm while out foraging for insects and was unable to make it back to his roost. Instead, he had apparently taken refuge under the edge of a sign attached to the side of a convenience store. Both the hard rain and the rising sun made it impossible for Van Gogh to safely fly back to his home roost.
Sometime during the mid-morning hours, three teenage boys noticed the little bat clinging to the brick wall and crouched tightly against the sign. Fear kept Van Gogh in place, making him an easy target for their heinous crime. Without forethought or concern for this delicate, little creature that had spent all night eating insects that destroy crops and carry deadly disease, they took a lighter from their pocket and reached as high as they could to come into contact with Van Gogh. They held the flame close enough to burn his fur and sear his ear and neck. Luckily, the shopkeeper saw them from the corner of his eye. Not immediately knowing what the boys were doing, only that they were doing something to the store sign, he rushed outside to confront them. Upon seeing the shopkeeper the boys fled, dropping the lighter in the process. As the shopkeeper approached the sign he heard small painful cries coming from Van Gogh, who was still weakly clinging to the bricks. The shopkeeper’s child had participated in a field trip to Bat World last year, so he was aware of our existence and immediately phoned us.
Thankfully, Van Gogh’s injuries weren’t life threatening. However, the fur on his head and neck was singed and the skin was badly burned. The membrane on one wing had blistered and one of his fragile ears had disintegrated under the flame. Hence, he was affectionately given the name of Van Gogh.
We admit several burn cases annually; some from power lines, some from chimneys and some from acts of cruelty, such as Van Gogh’s. Sadly, most of these bats are injured beyond repair and must be humanely euthanized. Van Gogh was very lucky. His desire to stay alive, his sweet disposition and the fact that he was only a few weeks old helped him adjust and heal quickly. However, his missing ear prevents him from echolocating properly and foraging for insects in the wild, so he is not releasable. Van Gogh appears extremely happy in captivity. He has grown a bit old and crotchety over the years, but is still lives a pampered life in protective surroundings, with a non-releasable captive colony of his own kind. He was retired from the Adopt-a-bat program in 2012.