Dear State Officials who have restricted bat rescue and rehabilitation,
We are now hearing from rehabilitators around the country, concerning members of the public (MOP) who are actively rescuing and caring for bats (oftentimes barehanded), in spite of any laws in place against this activity. A recent case involves a rabies suspect bat that is currently being tested for the disease. It is important to note that had the bat rehabilitator not been available to take this clearly suspect rabid bat, the MOP involved almost certainly would have contracted bat rabies.
The inevitable is just around the corner as the rabies virus is more prevalent in August than any other month. Additionally, both juvenile and adult bats become grounded much more often in August than in other months. Is it better to prohibit bat rescue, erroneously assuming that bat rehabilitators will not be able to adequately implement PPE and maintain the standards of care that we have already been providing for decades, or is it preferable to have the dozens of members of the public take matters into their own bare hands, as seen in this document? At this point we must ask, due to the restrictions being placed on bat rescue, how many cases of human rabies infection are acceptable this year?
We are aware that the NWHC performed in vivo testing on big brown bats and the test did not reveal any morbidity or mortality in bats that were inoculated with the SARS-CoV2 virus. Consequently, restrictions have been lifted for bat research in the field as long as PPE is utilized, which begs the question why these restrictions are not also being lifted for trained bat rehabilitators who are already using PPE?
One of the primary responsibilities of any wildlife rehabilitator is the release of healthy animals back into the wild. Our permits specifically prohibit retention of healthy, releasable animals unless we are granted special permission to do so. Holding bats beyond a reasonable quarantine period is counterproductive, and can lead to capture myopathy and death, especially in more sensitive species such as L. borealis, D. cinereus, and A. intermedius. Foliage-roosting bats are solitary by nature, and live out in the open in trees; they are easily distressed and will die if subjected to prolonged captivity. Even crevice-dwelling bats, which are biologically suited to living in close proximity to others, can be distressed by the loss of freedom when they are healthy and able to fly. In the summer, most of the bats coming into rehabilitation are orphans, and by the time they are old enough to be released they have been in care for a minimum of 14 days and typically are held for at least 45 days until they are mature enough to be independent. This is certainly a sufficient observation period to ensure that they are not demonstrating any signs of illness.
Preventing vaccinated, trained, licensed rehabilitators from admitting bats into care leaves these vulnerable animals in the hands of untrained, unvaccinated individuals, and every one of those bats will die from mishandling, disease, starvation, dehydration, lack of proper nutrition, injury, or infection. More critically, these restrictions clearly jeopardize the lives of the public. For the sake of bats as well as the public, we are formally requesting that, in states where restrictions on bat rescue and rehabilitation still exist, these restrictions be lifted immediately before a member of the public dies from bat rabies.
Founder & President
Bat World Sanctuary