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Speaking Out Against Inhumane Handling Techniques

By Mitch Gilley

As the infamous panda bat picture has been making the rounds again recently, we’ve felt compelled to speak out about the inhumane way that bats are often held for research photographs. We are speaking out because most people by and large aren’t familiar with bats in general, much less their facial expressions. Given that these pictures are bandied about so frequently in an admiring manner by people who admire bats, we simply want others to understand that these animals are not being held so much as forcibly restrained for the photo.

Two researchers inhumanely hold a bat up for the camera.

Of course, it may necessary to restrain the bat to an extent; a wild animal doesn’t understand why it is being restrained. They likely only see a large predator who is capturing them. So when I characterize the pictures in question as showing bats being forcibly restrained, I’m referring more to the equivalent of someone twisting your arms painfully behind your back rather than a pain-free method of confinement.

Another reason we feel compelled to address these pictures as they arise is to get across that there are humane ways to do all of this. These more violent methods – and they are violent and not unlike the dangerous joint locks taught in various forms of martial arts, as both serve the same purpose, being to restrain a subject with pain and threat of serious injury if they resist – are presumably used due to fear and expediency. The comparison is valid both due to the pain that’s obvious to those familiar with bat behavior as well as the common, inadvertent injuries that result from such methods.

Image compliments of J. Thurman.

It’s important to know that Bat World Sanctuary is not anti-research, in fact, we are supportive of non-invasive/nonlethal research projects that benefit bats, and we have participated in studies of this nature, one of the most prominent on bat vocalizations. What we are against is the inhumane treatment of bats, and in pointing this out it seems to us that our points are indisputable: there are humane ways to handle bats that keep them restrained and take photographs. In fact, the end result of photographing a bat held humanely is a nice photo of a bat that appears normal in expression, which is much more beneficial in promoting bat conservation as a whole. Photos that show bats being held wings outstretched and by their incredibly delicate finger tips, or with their elbows pinned toward their backs in dangerous and agonizing positions, does little to promote bat conservation. In fact, photos like this ultimately mar the reputation of the researcher involved because it appears to the public that the handler would rather inflict pain and injury simply to save a few moments of time and possibly avoid being bitten. And if these handlers are afraid of being bitten, then they should simply stop being cowards, get vaccinated properly and accept that handling wild animals carries a risk of being bitten.

That said, handling bats humanely actually minimizes the likelihood of being bitten. It works on one simple principle; if an animal doesn’t feel as if there’s a dire threat, it significantly decreases its propensity to bite you. And bats aren’t stupid – they know they’ve been captured by gigantic creatures. We tower over them with lights and make strange noises and poke and prod them, gently or otherwise…they know they’re outmatched. If they don’t think there’s an imminent threat that you’ll directly injure them, they won’t pick a futile fight.

 

Some hard core researchers might wrongly assume that we take a fluffy approach to bat handling and care. For someone with a surface familiarity with animal rehab, this may seem like a valid critique. However, the bats in our captive colonies are all there for one broad reason: they cannot be released. Whether they are permanently injured, orphaned, or were simply born into the pet trade, Bat World sanctuary is all they have. Camaraderie and trust and affection behooves everyone concerned. We want the bats in our care to not feel as if it’s a life or death struggle if we handle them during health checks; we want them to feel safe enough to go back to sleep if we accidentally wake them up as we go about our work.

But past the pragmatic aspects of it, our overriding concern is to provide a safe, rich environment for them to spend their lives. It’s a basic respect for life. That such a thing could be called fluffy should strike us all as very, very sad.

In closing, we simply consider that there is no reason for any researcher to inflict pain on any living thing. If pressed and not allowed to evade that basic question, even they couldn’t honestly disagree with this point. Science and humanity aren’t mutually exclusive. Researchers who opt to be inhumane out of expediency and an unwillingness to accept the risks of handling wild animals should be exposed for this practice. Our hope is that when exposed, they might put forth the extra effort to carry out their research with more respect for their subjects.

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Isis

It was a lonely, unimaginably long road that brought Isis, an Egyptian fruit bat to where she belonged all along. Where it begins is unclear; her previous “owners” (a well-known amusement park) had thought she was eight years old. Isis is actually eighteen, so there’s ten years missing from her history. It’s a shame that she only found sanctuary as an elderly bat with cataracts who can’t quite hang as well as she used to. Regardless, we are so happy that she finally found peace at Bat World Sanctuary.

Isis being removed from the shipping crate after arriving at Bat World.

Isis spent most of the eight years at the amusement park with her mate. They were the only two bats at the noisy theme park. The theme park was hoping that Isis and her mate would reproduce, but their living conditions wouldn’t allow any offspring to survive. Toward the end, Isis’ mate died, so Isis lived alone in a small glass cage for several months, gawked at by large groups of people seven days a week.

Thankfully, the theme park grew tired of caring for Isis and contacted Bat World Sanctuary. The day of her arrival found Isis scared, both of the shipping ordeal she’d just endured, the strange new place, and the strange new person picking her up. She was so afraid that she would not even hang onto our hand with her feet, but we were gentle and spoke in a soft voice, and Isis finally realized that she was safe. We can’t imagine what she must have felt to enter the flight cage for the first time, to see dozens of Egyptian fruit bats just like her, cuddling together and playing with toys, and eating their fill of nutritious food every night.

Baby Ice-Ice, resting on a warmed rolled up cloth. Click to enlarge.

Still, there was one more difficulty left for Isis to face. Soon after her arrival, Isis gave birth. Elderly Isis had apparently become pregnant before her mate died and she found herself in a new home with a newborn pup to take care of. Overwhelmed, Isis was unable to care for her baby and it fell to the padded floor of the flight cage. Her baby was found almost immediately, warmed, fed and placed into Bat World’s incubator for hand rearing.

Isis with her baby. Click to enlarge.

As a few more days passed, Isis finally realized she was “home.” She became familiar with her keepers and in doing so learned to lookforward to the melon treats that always came with soft voices. A short week after giving birth, we heard Isis calling for her baby. Hoping for the best but prepared to continue hand-raising her pup, we brought Isis the pup she was seeking and carefully placed it near her on the flight cage ceiling. Isis immediately went to her baby and encouraged it to climb onto her body. Her pup began nursing just a few minutes later.

Isis eating her favorite treat of honeydew melon.

Today Isis’ baby is a few months old and well in every possible sense.

As for Isis herself, she appears very happy despite her cataracts and her arthritis. She lives a quiet, peaceful existence with friends and family all her own, and she will never be alone again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boo2

Boo2 showing off his sweet, goofy smile.

Boo2 is an Egyptian fruit bat who was born at Bat World Sanctuary after his mother and seven other bats were rescued by Bat World from the now closed Little River Zoo. They came from a horrible situation.

An individual who was hired to “liquidate” the zoo’s animals called us about placing the remaining 8 bats. Sadly, the others had been sold to the cruel exotic pet trade. This individual originally planned to keep the remaining 8 bats and breed them, selling the “stock.” Thankfully, we talked her out of it, and all eight bats made it safely to Bat World Sanctuary in Sept of 2011. Boo2’s mother was pregnant when she arrived and Boo2 was born a few months later.

Boo2 became best buddies with Peekaboo, an Egyptian fruit bat who was rescued from similar conditions in 2009. It was this friendship that earned him the name Boo2. Peekaboo and Boo2 love to spend time with each other and are never seen far apart.

Left: Boo2 waiting for another melon treat while Peekaboo finishes hers. Right: Peekaboo and Boo2 playing twinsies while enjoying a honeydew treat.

 

Boo2 inserting himself in front of a morning keeper in order to get another melon treat. An empty fruit kabob is hanging beside Boo2.

Boo2 has so much personality that we have nicknamed him the “cage clown.” He’s never seen without an endearing, goofy grin on his face. Twice daily, keepers conduct visual exams of the bats under the guise of doling out melon treats to any bat who will take one. Boo2 positions himself in front of the keeper in any way possible in order to receive treat after treat.

We are so grateful to have rescued Boo2 from the dire conditions to which he would have been born, and a situation from which he most likely would have perished. Thank you to all who adopt and support Boo2 so that he and his kind can live a protected, happy and enriched life at Bat World Sanctuary.


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Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell at intake, nursing from a foam tip

Tinkerbell, a Jamaican fruit bat, is a sweet natured and endearingly odd little bat. To know her, you’d never think that her coming into the world had been so heartbreakingly grim.

Her mother was one of the many unfortunate bats that had become ensnared in the exotic pet trade, where bats inevitably live short lives of loneliness and terror. Like so many others in her predicament, Tinkerbell’s mother languished in a captivity wholly unsuited for bats and eventually died giving birth to her daughter. When Tinkerbell arrived at Bat World Sanctuary, she was, as is sadly common for bat pups whose mothers have died in childbirth, still clinging to her mother’s body.

Tinkerbell drinking her milk

Thankfully, things took a turn for the better; her owner, likely looking for ways to care for a newborn bat, came across Bat World’s Facebook page and learned how hard a pet’s life is for bats. It was too late for Tinkerbell’s mother, but not Tinkerbell herself, and the owner delivered the newborn to Bat World Sanctuary and asked us to keep spreading the word about keeping bats as pets. Were it not for her owner’s kind heart and willingness to admit she’d been wrong, Tinkerbell likely wouldn’t have made it either.

Tinkerbell at two months old

Tinkerbell was hand-raised at Bat World and has grown into a healthy and slightly eccentric adulthood. For whatever reason, be it her traumatic entry into the world or simply her odd little personality, she insists on roosting and eating by herself in the “bat hut” that serves as the halfway house for new arrivals. The bat hut is meant as temporary security for orphaned bats who are learning to adapt to the flight cage, but Tinkerbell has made it her permanent home. It’s not that Tinkerbell fears the other bats; she plays and flies alongside them nightly, and even enjoys visitors that pass through her bat hut. Tinkerbell simply values her solitude.

Tinkerbell in her bat hut, eating a piece of honeydew melon

Since deciding to call the bat hut her permanent home, Tinkerbell now serves as a welcoming committee to newly arriving orphaned bats. She allows the youngsters to roost and cuddle with her inside the bat hut, and in doing so eases their transition to hubbub of the flight cage.

In the wild, Tinkerbell’s solitary nature would deny her the protection of numbers and could put her in danger, but here at Bat World she has a place all her own. And if she wants company, there are over a hundred of her best friends no more than a wing flap away. We may not know why she lacks some of the social impulses that are so strong within other bats, but one thing’s for sure, her days of suffering and loss are over.

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Angela Best

Angela Best was born in Tuscon, Arizona and lived there until she relocated to TX several years ago. Angela fell in love with bats in when she was in the 6th grade, after she was given a book called “The Bat in My Pocket; A Memorable Friendship” written by Bat World’s Founder Amanda Lollar. At the time, Angela never dreamed that one day she’d be volunteering at the very sanctuary where the book was written some 20 years ago.

Angela  grew up with horses and other animals, and currently has four dogs and two cats who were rescued from animal shelters. Angela supports C.A.R.E.as often as she can, and hopes to one day operate a no-kill shelter on the property she owns.

 

Angela, preparing goodies for the fruit bat’s treat cups




Mitch Gilley

Mitch Gilley has advocated for animal rights his entire life. He attended Weatherford College, and he is proud yet humbled to be Associate Writer for Bat World Sanctuary.  When not writing, he is a budding and eager cyclist, an inwardly focused yogi and a lover of nature and the outdoors.

Before volunteering for Bat World, Mitch Gilley worked for a large company in Mineral Wells, Texas. One day he encountered a wounded Mexican free tail bat (later named Ichabod) in the company warehouse. His wrist was broken, yet the little bat was still fighting to crawl to safety, and then climbing a bay door, all through what must have been excruciating pain. Mitch was struck by this so-called “mouse with wings,” so widely despised as vermin, exhibiting a strength of character that most humans can only aspire to.  It was an encounter that would come to completely alter the course of Mitch’s life every bit as much as Ichabod’s.

The little animal set off a sequence of events, Mitch’s blog post detailing Ichabod’s rescue, to volunteer writing for Bat World, to spending a couple weekends working at Bat World itself; meeting Peekaboo and reuniting with an Ichabod – now on the mend – that led to him actually quitting his company job to volunteer full time as a grant writer for Bat World Sanctuary. Working at Bat World was something he wanted to do since junior high school when he attended a bat presentation given by Amanda Lollar. Now he’s doing it, all thanks to Ichabod, who is himself spending his days at Bat World.

Given the roots of Bat World in his childhood and an injured bat catalyzing the process of Mitch’s life change (much like that of his new boss), Mitch finds himself reconsidering his previous opinions on things like fate, kismet, dharma and the like.

Perhaps Peekaboo had a little something to do with it…


Mitch, with Peekaboo showing him the ropes.

 

 

 

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