Fabio, a Jamaican fruit bat, was retired to Bat World Sanctuary in 1994 from a DNA research project involving a dozen of his kind. The project involved taking notices from the ears as well as toe samples from the bats. Understandably, Fabio was very distrusting of humans when he arrived. Outside of routine health checks,. we gave him the space and privacy he needed. In his older years he grew arthritic and needed help grooming his fur, and we gained his trust in the process. During the last three years of his life Fabio was groomed every morning. He grew to love the process as much as we did. Fabio passed away on March 26, 2015 at the age of 22. Rest in peace, sweet Fabio; we still miss you dearly.
We just released four male free-tailed bats who were overwintering with us at Bat World Sanctuary. They had been found trapped in buildings and grounded just as winter set in, so for their own good they spent the winter with us until the weather warmed enough to allow them a safe release.
As typical at this time of year, we’d noticed a pattern of excitement in these boys over the past few weeks, progressing from fidgeting during feeding time to a growing curiosity and restlessness about what lie beyond the clinic walls.
For male bats, the return migration for free-tailed bats begins as early as late January (depending on the weather). In their never-ending quest for love, male bats begin to trickle back into Texas, often the height of winter, to get in before everyone else and scout out ideal spots for bachelor pads. They set up house, settle in, and as I like to imagine, practice their love songs assiduously until the females arrive around March.
This seasonal rite is so hardwired into the bats that despite having been indoors for months, they nevertheless know that it’s time to “get out there”. Like clockwork, the boys begin their harmless squabbling and frantically rubbing their chests and faces on the entries to their selected roosting spots in the hopes that the ladies will like their aftershave. It’s all natural, of course. Very fancy stuff. Between this and their constant impeccable grooming, I’ve come to understand that in their way, the bats dress far, far better than I do.
It’s a humbling thing to realize.
This incredible innate precision isn’t limited to time keeping, however. They’ve been shown to be able to navigate over large distances even when the moon isn’t visible, using only a glimpse of the position of the sun at sunset. Here in Texas, they are often even spotted on Doppler radar in massive swarms, uncannily spherical or crescent shaped in form. These are most often the bats of Bracken cave, which number at a staggering 20 million bats and is thought to be the largest conclave of mammals on Earth. Much of this likely isn’t new information to those who read this blog and follow our efforts to educate on online; it wasn’t anything we staff didn’t already know either. There is, however, a massive difference between having an abstract understanding of the capacities of bats’ sensoriums versus seeing it in action, and in situations where its efficacy seems almost preternatural.
It’s not, of course. It’s as natural as natural gets. Bats merely make us rethink what natural or normal is. They are incredibly long-lived for small mammals, and their roles in their respective ecosystems are far more foundational than is common for Class Mammalia. They are the only creatures other than birds and insects that are capable of true flight, and their dispositions are completely at odds with their unjustly sinister reputation.
They embody a conundrum that many of the brightest minds humanity has produced have pondered since the mind was first able to ponder. Perhaps we can sense this about them; perhaps this is why they have so persistently captured our collective imagination and become icons and archetypes both innate to and beyond what they really are.
One thing is for sure: the benefits of bats run the entire gamut, from maintaining the foundation of their ecosystems to the inspiring of philosophical contemplation. All animals should be valued, but it has to be said that few are so richly beneficial to all aspects of our existence in this world.
Judging from the enthusiastic response on our Facebook page and the activity in our chat room, most of you will already be aware of the four bat cams streaming live 24/7 in the flight enclosures.
This was a big step for us. It’s been one of Bat World’s missions to show that bats are undeserving of the sinister reputation that has plagued them for centuries and there’s no better way to dispel the myths than to show them and how they react naturally and interact with their caregivers. Many, many people have seen movies depicting bats as vicious, evil beings so it gives us immense pleasure to show them in a new light, their natural light, illuminated by authenticity rather than unimaginative fiction.
There’s never been a good way to let people actually see how inquisitive and playful they are. Their antics are the subject of a lot of discussion around the office here at Bat World, and we are the ones who are fortunate enough to see it everyday. Now any supporter can watch a video stream in the evenings and see fruit and insect bats live and play in a surrounding that is as close to their native environment as is possible; short of setting up cameras in a rain forest that is.
The Dropcam software even allows you to go back through the previous night’s footage the next morning and identify moments of high activity so that particularly interesting events can be quickly isolated. It also enables us to convert these moments into educational, heartwarming and even comical videos.
That is the best thing about these cameras: capturing those little moments and learning small details that would otherwise go undocumented, even with nocturnal observation in the wild because all predation and the struggle to survive at the hands of man has been removed. They are safe and able to play as nature intended before the cruelty of humans entered their world. The cameras are small, surrounded by foliage and very unobtrusive, whereas a human observer would cause many of the bats to simply pay attention to them rather than be themselves, no matter how familiar that individual might be to the bats.
Being inquisitive and playful much of the first night’s footage was of curious bat snouts probing the camera, or the lens being covered by wings as they outright landed on it for a thorough examination. Still, in the end, the cameras have become just another fixture in their playground and they are free to be themselves. It was such a heartfelt moment to know that we could bring our supporters the joy the bats experience from the new toys that are frequently sent by donors.
To our knowledge, this sort of free interaction among a sizable colony of bats can’t be seen anywhere else. In the streams you can watch both fruit and insect bats play, groom, solve enrichment puzzles, and mingle freely not only with those different from themselves, but those of entirely different species. We invite those who are interested in them to indulge, those who are put off by their undeserved reputation to disabuse themselves of erroneous preconception, and everyone to burn through far too much free time than intended watching this unprecedented window into their lives.
It all suggests that perhaps nobody is better at advocating for bats than the bats themselves.
Despite my prediction that the impish Carollias (think Lil Drac) would be first, it was the ordinarily skittish Egyptians – with Peek-a-boo leading the charge – that flew the first quick and wary circles around the newly completed semi-outdoor flight enclosure as soon as the sun had set. Once around, then back home as fast as their wings could carry them.
As the others watched the first bats return unharmed, more joined them for the next foray, then more still, then even more. With each of their roundabout reconnaissance, they collectively gathered more information, sharing it with each squeak and squawk and call. Before long, they sought out the foliage shrouded hiding places of the enclosure and tentatively hung from them to get a longer, deeper look at this huge, mysterious new place with its unfamiliar sounds of the night and freshness to its air.
It was bigger than their indoor enclosure but in most other respects it was very similar. Natural, locally harvested grapevine snaked across the ceiling to simulate the trees of their native habitats. Foliage and flowers hung in abundance, giving them plenty of places to congregate and feel secure. Toys dotted the ceiling as well, so that they’d never be bored. All of it was arranged to provide for clear pathways for flight, yet with density enough for everyone to have something to play with.
While they liked all this, and while the familiarity lent this new place a comfort that put them at ease, there was one crucial thing that they’d never had before, that many of them had never even been fortunate enough to witness before: moonlight; nature’s oldest gift to bats.
It’s one of the many tragedies of fruit bats trapped in the pet trade, in substandard zoos and in research; nearly all of them are born, live and die without ever getting to experience the very night with which they are so attuned. Even at the original Bat World the nature of the building made it impossible to expose them to a natural day/night cycle. We simulated it with the carefully designed indoor lighting, being brought down in levels until complete darkness overtook the facility each evening but it wasn’t and could never be the same because we could never give them the moon.
They had it now and despite the tumult of the recent move and having only just adapted to their new home, they rushed to this natural gift from Mother Nature. Watching their excitement, it was clear that we’d given them something they’d been yearning for all their lives.
By the second night they populated the enclosure as if it had always been there. They brought food outside to eat, even carried toys with them, congregated in their roosts and generally acted as playfully as ever. There was a single moment for each of us as we witnessed the incredible joy of these miraculous creatures and the welling of tears was not to be restrained, it was too special of a moment; the kind of thing that you remember forever.
The truly great thing about the semi-outdoor enclosure, however, is that the climate here in North Central Texas is almost perfect for it. Temperatures can drop down to the mid-50s before it becomes uncomfortable or unsafe for them, but for 9-10 months out of the year it never gets that cold. They were even able to get a few nights “outside” in early December. This will be something they’ll be able to enjoy nearly all year long.
Short of being located in a tropical climate, it could not have worked out any better.
Most of you are aware of our big move to our new facility last August. By far most of the work was with the new enclosures, which I am extremely proud to have helped built. Not only are they much larger, but very carefully designed and build with relentless perfectionism.
But given the picky disposition that most bats share, we could not help but wonder if they would approve of the all the work that we put into their new home. It was really gratifying to see them immediately recognize the similarities between their new enclosures and the old ones, the familiar scents of their old toys and roosts were meticulously woven into the new which gave them the confidence to explore its differences. Even Poppy wandered across the ceiling in the full light of day, (thanks to the large skylight), to check out her new home despite ample secluded places to hide and wait for it to get dark. She reminded me of the great explorers who conquered the new West and we took delight in watching her inspect every aspect of the new home she and her brethren would share.
The bats took a few days in hammering out their chosen roosting but by the end of the first week it almost seemed as though they’d always lived at the new place as it was theirs to command, enjoy and embrace and somehow instinctively they knew it. We, their caretakers, learned right alongside the bats and realized more ways to make life easier than ever for our elderly and arthritic bats, such as the day we discovered one of them munching on a chunk of sweet potato that had fallen off of one of the a kabobs that hangs from the flight enclosure ceiling. It had hit the floor and rolled under the roosting area and ended up against a wall. An elderly Jamaican fruit bat that likes to roost against the mesh that lines that wall (one of several rescued from research in 1996), happened to noticed the sweet potato. He crawled down to the floor and began to happily munch away in secrecy and comfort, knowing the sweet potato was all his and that none of the younger bats would come down and steal it away from his aging grip. Now we make sure each night that ample pieces of sweet potato are placed in various spots on the clean floor and against the wall for the oldsters.
There are a million other things that the bats and we caretakers have learned from each other since the big move, so the extent of it all is far beyond one blog post. What’s most important, though, is the trust that the bats have shown in us in taking them to their new home. Even shy Isis, who hasn’t been with us long compared to most of our other residents, now comes out for treat time and waits expectantly for her piece of honeydew. She, along with the African fruit bats and many, many others, were among those that volunteers and staff didn’t see very often during the day, and while we hoped that they would accept their new home, we did not expect that they would seem to understand so well that we did this for them.
No matter how hard the work was, I know I speak for everyone when I say that we’d do it all over again just to witness the bats enjoying the semi-outdoor enclosure for the first time as they soared in the night air, zipping back and forth with the abandonment that only freedom brings. That’s a story for the next blog, though.
Lastly, to all who gave us so much support in getting this huge undertaking done, whether it was by donations or by rolling up their sleeves to help – thank you. We realize that we have thanked you many times already, but to us it will never be enough.
Terri Smith, Assistant Director Terri has a background in medical transcription and also worked for years with in educational systems developing life skills programs for special needs children. Terri is an animal rights activist with a special place in her heart for the under-dog. She had never been around bats before coming to Bat World Sanctuary and had always believed what a lot of people believe – that bats are scary. Within two minutes of being with them she quickly realized that she had spent a lot of years with the wrong ideas. Terri states “My day is no longer complete unless I have had my daily time with them.” Terri’s favorite part of the day is feeding them their treats. Least favorite part of the day – getting yelled at by the bats for being late with their treats! Terri’s patience, cheerful, go-getter attitude, her flexibility, and all around smarts make Terri a valued asset to Bat World Sanctuary.
Desi Chips, Assistant Keeper
Before working for Bat World Sanctuary Desi spent time in customer service as well as running a home based business. Much of her free time is spent volunteering for various animal rescue organizations. Desi’s roots are in Mineral Wells, Texas where she was born and raised and where she resides with her husband and their two-year old daughter. Desi became interested in bats at the age of 10 when she found a small bat at the beach that had unfortunately drowned. Her heart went out to the tiny, beautiful creature and she wanted to know more, so she began to read books on bats at every opportunity. Desi now looks forward to a long-term career with Bat World Sanctuary, where her passion, her loyalty, her motivated nature and her dedication to the animals she serves makes her a welcome addition to our organization.
Jen Toretto, Assistant Keeper
Jen has always had a love for all animals and a soft spot for the misunderstood. She has spent many years volunteering for various animal rescues, helping any way she can. Jen is the type that stops to push turtles out of the road and carries leashes and treats in her car to help stray dogs. She is a single mom whose life revolves around her daughter, animals, and cars. She is a vegetarian and checks all bath and beauty products to be sure they are cruelty free. Her first experience with bats was when she 14 and visited Carlsbad Caverns. She has had a fascination ever since. Jen believes that if everyone would care, even a little, we could see the day that the only need for rescues and sanctuaries would be to help the injured and not because of humans, their greed, or cruelty. “I will always be the voice for the voiceless.” Jen’s experience in the field of animal rights and animal rescue make her a welcome asset to Bat World Sanctuary.
Before Mildred came to us she’d accomplished quite a lot on her own. While she called the decades-old bat colony in the heart of downtown Mineral Wells, TX home, each winter this tiny, inch-long bat would fly out one night with the rest of her colony and head for Central America to escape the cold. Each spring she would return to reform their community, raise her pup and keep people who didn’t even know she existed free of insect pests and free to enjoy the night in peace, as she did. As the years took their toll, the migrations felt longer, gravity felt stronger and the heavy demands of motherhood grew heavier. Sometime over the years Mildred lost the tip of her tail, but for approximately eighteen years she persevered, until one day the rigors of it all became too much for her and she found herself grounded.
One thing saved her: she finally succumbed in her Texas home, and that home is a wild sanctuary under the care of Bat World. A volunteer found her starving and dehydrated, still pressing onward as best she could to crawl toward some kind of safety. She was rescued and she quickly recovered to the point where she would ordinarily be returned to the wild.
There were two problems, however. It was immediately clear that she loved being at Bat World Sanctuary. She took to her caretakers very quickly, and learned to feed herself from the meal worm dishes which is very unusual for a bat of her age. After just a few days it was clear that she liked them very much as she grew rounder and rounder.
It was also clear that the old age that grounded her would only do so again if she were to be released. Time had worn her teeth down so that she’d have had trouble grabbing insects from the air and holding onto them. It had likely made feeding difficult for her for some time and was almost certainly the problem that had caused her to almost starve. Having worked so hard for so long she deserved an easy retirement, and so she was given one. Mildred will live out her life at Bat World with many other old friends rescued from that same colony, where flying is simply for the joy of it, and plentiful food will never be out of her reach.
Many of you have tracked the progress of the new facility via our Facebook updates, but now the preliminary stages of moving in are underway. We’ll be operating at our same address of 20 years for the time being; with the bats requiring constant care it’s not simply a matter of packing everything up and moving it from here to there. So, for the next month both our current facility and the new facility will need to be operational so that the only interruption to the bats’ routines is a short car ride when the final day of moving arrives.
To that end, we’ve been putting special effort into the new flight enclosures and the new clinic, as these areas always will be the heart of Bat World. The interiors of the enclosures are being designed and laid out, cabinets and shelves have been assembled (by myself, with several do-overs) and a forest mural is being hand-painted around the flight enclosures by the very talented Sarah Kennedy, an artist and photographer who has volunteered at Bat World for several years. Sarah flew all the way from New York to do this for us. Those of you who’ve ordered our book Baby See-through will be familiar with her artwork. We’re extremely grateful for her time and effort in helping us create such a scenic environment for our residents.
Even my brother got in on the action, helping Amanda and me to move clinic supplies and furniture yesterday. In fact, we got so focused on loading up a desk, boxes of formula, supplements, medical supplies, reference books, as much as we could that we forgot to leave any space for him in the back to ride in the back of the vehicle. We’d have unloaded some stuff to make room for him, but he insisted on sandwiching himself between boxes and making the trip. It was a small selfless act, and we appreciated it. You know how it is when you’re moving: the smallest thing can solicit the most profound gratitude. This applies doubly so in the midst of a sweltering Texas summer. Thanks, Mark.
Volunteers spent the 4th of July hanging cabinets and setting up incubators for orphaned and injured bats, because alongside all this transition, nature keeps on being nature, and right now in nature bats’ activity is at its peak. In other words, it’s baby season. We’ve taken in 11 free tail pups this week, and just today I went to pick up 3 mother bats that had gotten lost and trapped in a building. They were quite dehydrated and sluggish, but with injections of electrolytes for hydration and small feedings throughout the day they bounced back quickly. Thankfully, they were able to be released that very night and as predicted, they flew straight back to their roost, likely to find their very hungry babies as quickly as possible.
We can’t save every single bat in need – nobody can – but thanks to the support of our incredibly loyal base of donors, many, many baby bats are saved from prolonged suffering and given a second chance at life. Your donations have helped us put formula into a newborn orphan’s belly, provided pain medications and antibiotics for injured bats, and most importantly, you have helped us built a new facility so that we can continue saving even badly wounded babies and adults, giving them a chance to fly free once again. And to think, we have only just begun!
It’s funny what you end up daydreaming about when you have to prepare a giant bin of fruit every day, the fruit bat’s nightly ration. For us, a huge refrigerator is close to the top of the list. We use a large variety of fruit, including but not limited to organic apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, pears, honeydew melon, blueberries, papaya, kiwi, etc. All these things ripen, and thus spoil, at different rates at room temperature. We refrigerate what we can, but we currently have nowhere near enough space for everything.
Once in the new facility, however, this will no longer be a problem. One of our biggest supporters purchased the fridge of a fruit salad chef’s dreams, one of such size that we don’t even have the space to use it here in our current facility. It’s being safely stored at the moment, but it wasn’t stored easily.
On the morning of the day it arrived, February 14th (Valentine’s Day), we’d gotten word a couple days before that the fridge had been purchased for us, which was really great news. We then speculated on when the delivery might occur but assumed since it was coming by freight it would be at least 2 to 3 weeks. The thing weighed a monstrous 450 pounds and was possibly too large to simply bring in through our shipping hall door, so we needed to take some measurements and find a place to store it until we moved. Thankfully, we had plenty of time.
Then, only two days later, a semi truck pulled up in front of Bat World’s facility. It couldn’t be the refrigerator, we said. The donor had just bought it. No way it comes in that fast. And besides, freight trucks sometimes get overloaded and can’t make it to all their stops in a given day; there was a fair chance that this shipment, which couldn’t have possibly been the fridge, wouldn’t even arrive today. The truck must be delivering groceries to the bistro across the street from us. So, reassured, we went about our business.
Then we saw the driver headed to our door, and the afternoon rapidly went downhill from there. He handed me the freight bill which listed an unspecified item (they often do; it’ll say “appliance” or the like rather than be more specific) with a weight of 450 pounds. Sure enough, when he opened the door to his trailer, there it was, looming monolithically over us. It only took a second to see that not only was it going to be too heavy for Amanda and I to move ourselves, but it was also very possibly too big for the shipping hall entrance.
While the driver began unloading it, we went to work doing whatever we could to widen the entrance. There was a light fixture taking up a few inches in the shipping hall that I hastily removed. From there we switched to clearing out the hall as much as possible and discovering that even if we could get the fridge inside, the doors would be unable to close.
The worst part, for me, was that prior to coming to Bat World, I’d spent eleven years working in a warehouse, where part of my responsibilities had been to handle the unloading of the larger, heavier and more awkward shipments that came in: huge bundles of steel, tower sections, and anything else that would make insurance companies tremble to see balanced in the air on a forklift. There, I could have literally unloaded this thing in about thirty seconds. It stung more than a little to be so stymied by a refrigerator.
It wasn’t just us; the driver didn’t have an easy time of it either. To get the fridge over the curb and on the sidewalk in front of Bat World’s facility, he had to drag it with his pallet jack all the way to the end of the block and up the incline at the crosswalk, then walk it down the sidewalk back to our entrance. And that, per his company’s insurance regulations, was all he could do for us. It was up to us to get it the rest of the way.
So there it sat, so close, yet so far. The thing was even mounted on wheels, but it also sat on a skid, and thus the wheels weren’t actually touching the ground. It was all very frustrating until Amanda seized upon an idea: our contractor who is overseeing the work on the new facility must know somebody who could help us! They’d surely have access to the right equipment as well! One apprehensive phone call later – as we had absolutely no Plan B if they couldn’t or were unwilling to help – and a crew was en route. Good guy, our contractor.
I left at this point to go home, as the bats were set for the day and there was nothing else I could contribute. In doing so, I missed the fun that came later, such as the crew that didn’t speak English, or the mailbox being removed from the glass door to see if that allowed room, and when it didn’t, both glass entry doors were removed from their hinges. Amanda stood by holding and handing out any tools they might need and hanging onto screws that had to be removed from the doors, trying her best to help in small ways despite the language barrier. There was also the removal of the fridge from its skid by sheer muscle power, which makes the ex-warehouse worker in me both cringe and nod approvingly at the same time. Even with a proper crew rather than two mere bat rescuers, that couldn’t have been easy.
For their efforts, which resulted in the fridge safely squeezed inside and the glass doors and mailbox all back in place, Amanda gave them the closest thing on hand in an attempt to show gratitude: a few pieces of individually wrapped Valentine’s Day candy. It was her sincere hope that they didn’t misinterpret her small gift.
In the end, the fridge ended up safely stored in the far end of the shipping hall where it sits now, completely blocking one of our shelves, a reminder of the surplus of space we’ll soon have at the new facility and the uncommon generosity of our supporters. It will make feeding Peekaboo and her cohorts easier in a million different ways. Our stocks will be all in one place, we won’t have to track ripeness or spoilage for each different kind of fruit as it’ll all be preserved and all of it can be procured at once, maybe as far as two weeks in advance. It’s hard to believe, but then, as we well know, that is one huge refrigerator.
Still, every time I’m in the shipping hall now and see it, only one thought comes to mind: Someday, and soon, we’ll have to move it again. Science has about a month to perfect teleportation before be move, and I for one am holding out hope.
I’m loathe to admit that I have favorite bats among those we care for, but I am particularly drawn to a few of them. There’s Ichabod, for starters, the formerly injured and now chubby free tail who is responsible for me being at Bat World to begin with. It goes without saying that he would mean quite a lot to me.
With the fruit bats, though, it’s always been Poppy. You might have expected me to say Peekaboo, but that’s backwards; Peekaboo has favorite humans. This arrangement cannot be reversed.
It’s just that the tragedy of Poppy’s history is palpable. She spent most of her life at a zoo in Canada where she was forced to keep a diurnal sleep schedule and endure exhibitions for the crowds of visitors. That she was profoundly unhappy there is evidenced by the warnings we received when she was sent to us. Look out, Poppy likes to bite.
From day one, Poppy has never tried to bite any of us for any reason whatsoever. She has ample chances at treat time, but not only does she never bite, she’s actually very careful in taking the treat from our fingers.
Still, Poppy remained very, very shy. With her past, who could blame her? As one of the largest bat species on earth, she towered over the African fruit bats. She’d no longer be mistreated, but I feared she’d always be lonely, and that there was nothing we could ever do to truly fix it for her. Every time I brought her the traditional bit of papaya at treat time, I’d see sadness and trepidation in her eyes, and it broke my heart every single time. Yes, she was safe, and yes, she’d never be abused, but after what she suffered, I wanted her to be happy. She deserved to be happy.
It wasn’t just her eyes, nor a flight of imagination extrapolated from what I knew of her background. When we’d bring her that chunk of papaya, she’d hide her face from us. My coworker Angela and I quickly figured out that she was extremely easily startled, and that if we approached her slowly and called out her name in a soft tone of voice before peeking into her roost, she was a little less nervous. It was a little thing, but it was something we could do to make her more comfortable, and we did it religiously thereafter, and still do.
It went like this for weeks after I arrived, until one day I went to her roost with her papaya only to find that she wasn’t there. Panic ensued, and Angela and I swept through the enclosure with as much haste as was possible without frightening the other bats until she spotted Poppy in a very peculiar place: the roosting area of the Egyptian fruit bats. She had settled into the back and blended into the dimness very well with her dark fur even as she dwarfed all the dozens of bats around her. It was only her big orange eyes that allowed Angela to find her, and it only occurs to me now as I write this that it was because she made eye contact with Angela. That was something that Poppy rarely did with us, if ever.
The next day, she had returned to her usual solitary roost, but every two or three weeks there would be a day where we’d find her with the Egyptians again. We all wondered what Poppy’s reasons for spending the day with them were, and while I was tempted to observe her as much as I could, both her and the Egyptians are easily disturbed, and it goes without saying that their comfort did and will always take precedence over my curiosity.
Weeks passed, as they do, until recently we found her with the Egyptians two days in a row, which she’d never done before. Even more interestingly, that second day found her behaving very differently: she no longer hid her face from us. She took her papaya without hesitation. She looked me squarely in the eye, and I could swear that I didn’t see any of the sadness I always saw before. At the time I shrugged it off; I wasn’t entirely sure that those sad eyes weren’t a figment of my sometimes overly romantic imagination, although in retrospect it made perfect sense. Bats are highly social creatures, and over the years Amanda has seen enough anecdotal evidence to come to believe that loneliness can actually severely impact their health, and is actually fatal in extreme cases. It makes perfect sense that Poppy would find her boldness with the Egyptians, even though they aren’t her species. Bats don’t concern themselves too much with such arbitrary divisions. To them, bats are bats.
As of today, Poppy has never returned to her old roost, and is a totally different bat. Today she waits expectantly for her treat and takes it eagerly. She doesn’t shy away, and will even let me pet her without showing any nervousness or uncertainty. Best of all, though, she seems happy.
We’ll never know exactly what caused the change: it could have been safety in numbers, perhaps Peekaboo’s brazenness rubbed off on her, maybe we were just a few pieces of papaya away from gaining her full trust all along, but somehow overnight she found a boldness that I never expected to see in her.
What I do know, now, is that it happened so organically despite its suddenness that it was only in the last couple of days as I was telling the story to someone that I realized how significant this is. We’ve had many bats that were tragically orphaned, many others that endured ill treatment at the hands of people who didn’t know or didn’t care how to properly tend them, but Poppy had endured years of mistreatment. She was forced to perform and subjected to crowds and noise when her circadian rhythm dictated that she should have been sleeping, and finally subjected to what must have been a terrifying international journey, finding herself with us at the end of it. Many bats who suffer much less never forget it, and at best will only tolerate our presence, and then only if we don’t come too close. It pains us, of course, that we can’t convey to them that they are safe, finally, but ultimately we respect their wishes and keep our distance as best we can as we tend to the colony.
Poppy, however, with the help of her new and comparatively diminutive best friends, has overcome her past. The difference in her is truly amazing. They could have told me we’d taken in a new flying fox as an April Fool’s joke, one that looks exactly like Poppy, that took up the exact same spot in the Egyptians’ roosting area, that also insists on papaya at treat time, and I’d have believed it.
Words can’t possibly convey to you how utterly great it is to see Poppy out of the shell she hid in for so long, but many of you have cared enough to sponsor her through the Adopt-a-Bat program, and we felt we owed it to you to try.
The vast bulk of the credit goes to Poppy herself, and the accepting nature of bats in general. They don’t see her huge size or her orange eyes or her fox-like face; all they see is another bat. That makes it their success story more than ours, and it couldn’t be a more beautiful one.