After an intensive application process that included complete transparency on finances, budgets, long-term goals, policies, record keeping, employees, operating procedures, oversight, animal care sheets, veterinary care, budgets, emergency protocols and contingency plans, we are so proud to say that we are now accredited with the prestigious Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). We have been verified with GFAS for some time as well as accredited with the American Sanctuary Association, however, full accreditation with GFAS has always been our ultimate goal.
“It is heartwarming to see animals that are so often misunderstood and mistreated receiving the high quality, life-long care and respect they deserve at Bat World Sanctuary. Bat World Sanctuary truly maintains the welfare of the bats as their highest priority as demonstrated by their individualized intensive care of non-releasable bats and the extremely high survival rates of the bats they rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the wild”, says, Kellie Heckman, Executive Director of GFAS
Achieving GFAS Accreditation means Bat World Sanctuary meets the comprehensive and rigorous definition of an exceptional sanctuary and as such provides humane and responsible care for bats and meets the rigorous standards for operations, administration, and veterinary care established by GFAS. The accreditation status provides a clear and trusted means for public, donors, and government agencies to recognize and trust Bat World Sanctuary as an true sanctuary.
On February 3rd, 2016, around 10pm, I was just wrapping up the day when I saw a plea for help on our Facebook page from Lisa G, about an issue in Houston Texas that involved an elderly woman beating helpless free-tailed bats to death with her cane. (Caution, disturbing video on this link.)
The video sickened me to the core, and I was further frustrated by the fact that Houston is over 300 miles away from Bat World Sanctuary. The video also made it appear as though the woman was helpless and the bats were invading her home. However, free-tailed bats are shy and secretive. They hide in cracks and crevices as well as attics and caves. They do not hang out in the open. These bats would have to be pulled out of their roost in order to be beaten to death. Keep in mind that these animals have an intelligence level equivalent to that of dolphins. They have a complicated social structure that includes over 25 different vocalizations that make up their language. Mother free-tails only have one young per year and if anything happens to her pup, a mother will openly grieve for days with her mournful cries. Free-tailed bats are capable of eating up to 5,000 harmful flying insects nightly and they have a lifespan of over 15 years. Each bat that was killed had the potential of eating 27,375,000 harmful insects in its lifetime.
Because it was so late, my only recourse was to alert rescuers in the area as well as Marcelino Benito, the reporter at KHOU 11 News who covered the story and asked to be contacted if anyone could help. I left messages with Mr. Benito through email and his Facebook page that night as well as the following morning. I also put in calls first thing the following morning to our local game warden, KHOU 11 news, and our good friends at 911Wildlife, a humane exclusion company who works on behalf of wildlife as well as people. 911Wildlife was founded by Bonnie Bradshaw, a fellow wildlife rehabilitator. With offices throughout Texas, including Houston, they were able to immediately respond to this tragedy. 911Wildlife arrived at the woman’s house early that same morning and donated their time and equipment to humanely exclude the bats so no more would be needlessly killed. They also did a thorough search for survivors. Sadly, only five bats out of potentially hundreds survived her beatings. The 911Wildife crew transferred these tiny, broken souls to a local rescuer we had on standby, and the Houston Five are now with Bat World Sanctuary.
Later, I sent an email to Mr. Benito asking why he didn’t actually seek help for this woman. Having access to the internet granted him a wealth of information he could have easily used to help her. Instead, he chose to demonize bats in his report while filming her sickening brutality -which had apparently been going on for years. He even stood by while still-alive bats were thrown into a trash bag. Mr. Benito never responded to any of my emails or Facebook messages, nor the messages of dozens of other conservation-minded supporters. Many people wrote to express their extreme disappointment at the lack of any helpful information that KHOU 11 news provided for this woman or the bats. Instead, they chose to sensationalize bats and deepen the fears of people who don’t know better.
If there is a brighter note to this story it is that this colony of bats will no longer be in harms way since they have been humanely excluded. Dozens of people came together in a show of concern for these bats and the elderly woman as well. Thank you to all of you who emailed and called us out of concern for these bats, and thank you, especially Bonnie and crew at 911Wildlife – the bats would not have had a chance without your intervention. Thank you, Marsha P., who received the bats and thank you, Marzi P., who made an 11-hour trip in one day to transport the bats back to our Mid-Cities rescue center, where Kate, our Director of Special Projects stayed up most of the night treating and stabilizing the survivors.
As of this morning, the Houston Five -Timmy, Dash, Ella, Jane Ann, and Bee- are slowly recovering. Dash is in the best shape; she has some facial abrasions and internal bruising, but no fractures. Ella and Jane Ann are not in quite as good shape; they both had to have a full amputation and also have internal bruising. Timmy and Bee are in the worst shape; Timmy had a wing amputation and also a broken leg while Bee had a full amputation and severe internal injuries. All five bats are resting comfortably now, with pain medication, antibiotics, and vitamin supplements and all have started eating decent amounts of food (an increase in appetite is always a good sign!). They will remain in a ‘Hospital Hut’ for a few more days while their injuries stabilize. All of the bats are also receiving an iron supplement as they are anemic due to internal injuries. We are cautiously optimistic that they will all pull through, however, we will not be confident for at least another week.
Note: While amputations of a wing may seem extreme, bats, like dogs, can live rich, full lives without the use of a limb. The highly social and terrestrial nature of free-tailed bats in particular allows them to enjoy life outside of flight.
UPDATE – Feb 8, 2016:
Sadly, Ella passed away the day after posting this story, however, the remaining Houston Four, under the expert care of Kate Rugroden, our Director of Special projects, have now fully recovered. They will live their lives out in peace and comfort at our Bat World MidCities rescue center.
UPDATE – Feb 24, 2016:
The four survivors, now known as The Houston Four, have fully recovered and have adjusted to their new life at our rescue center, Bat World MidCities. The photo below was taken 2/24/16.
For a rescue facility, the importance of a back-up system in the event of a power failure cannot be underestimated. The back-up system we had in our previous location consisted of wearing headlamps to work, then cleaning the enclosures and preparing food in near darkness until the power was restored. Normally the power only went off for a couple of hours at the most, however, one memorable summer the power went out for over 18 hours during orphan season. Orphans require temperatures of 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. With no power the incubator could not work, however, with no air conditioning the building stayed at a comfortable (for them) 100°F so they were quite cozy. The orphans also needed round-the-clock feedings of warmed milk formula, which was impossible to heat in an all electric facility. I improvised and heated their formula over the open flame of an old-fashioned oil lamp, which worked wonderfully. However, feeding the babies under the light of a headlamp proved challenging because it was so heavy from perspiration that it kept slipping over my eyes.
In the event the power failed during the winter, we had two large indoor kerosene heaters capable of heating the entire building. The heaters were critical because fruit bats cannot withstand cold temperatures, in fact, temperatures below 40°F can be fatal to fruit bats.
Thankfully, in our previous location the power rarely went out, however, in our new location it appears to be a regular occurrence with every storm that passes through. The fact that we are on a small hill makes matters worse, because twice last year the snow and ice made it impossible for power trucks (or anyone else) to drive up the hill. On top of that, our new facility is much larger than the old one, so it a is huge inconvenience to not be able to do the daily wash of the 25 sheets that line the floor of the fruit bat enclosure, much the panic that sets in over potential food spoilage.
It has always been our goal to one-day have a back-up generator in place. We thought it would take much longer to reach this goal, but thankfully, with the help of some very special donors, we did not have to wait. In January our generators were installed. This wonderful piece of security automatically kicks on in the event of a power failure and it will run for an extended period of time in the event of a total black-out. We opted for two smaller generators rather than one large one, which was less expensive and also saves on propane as only one generator kicks on at a time. When more power is needed, the 2nd generator then kicks on.
A very special thank you to the donors who made this happen for the bats as well as the staff who takes care of their needs. There are not enough words for the appreciation and relief we feel to finally have a generator in place. A special thank you as well to David Allen at Circle A Electric, Knight Propane and Chavez Fencing for the great work you provided as well as the discounts you gave to our nonprofit organization. We are almost looking forward to the next storm that passes through. 😉
As you may recall from our 2015 year-end annual report, we only needed $13,000 to pay off the large construction loan we secured in 2013 in order to build our new facility. Well, we have fantastic news! Your support, along with a tremendous donation of $50,000 and the sale of our former property, enabled us to pay the entire loan in December and Bat World is now 100% debt free! Bat World Sanctuary truly is a “Forever Place for Bats in Need”, and thousands of bats like little Victoria (pictured below) will be saved, for decades to come, because of you. What a magical way to begin the New Year.
Little Victoria is our first rescue of 2016. She was one of several evening bats using the hollow of a dead tree as a roost. Unfortunately the tree was about to fall into the street so the homeowners had to remove it. In cutting a section they discovered a small colony of evening bats roosting in a knothole. The startled bats flew off, but as the homeowners moved that section of the tree out of the way they discovered little Victoria hiding in another crevice, bleeding where the saw blade had nicked her tiny body. Thankfully, the concerned homeowners immediately called us for help. Victoria has a lacerated ear, a broken wrist, finger fractures on one wing, and a forearm fracture on the other wing. This photo was taken after she arrived at our rescue center, Bat World MidCities on Jan 13th (she had received pain medication and antibiotics before this picture was taken). Victoria is doing much better today but unfortunately she is not releasable so she’ll live out her life at Bat World with others of her kind.
Your support enabled Victoria to be rescued and supported for the remainder of her life with every conceivable bat creature comfort, in a simulated natural environment with others of her own kind. Thank you to every one of you; no matter the size of the donation, it took all of you, from those who donated $5 to the anonymous donor who gave the astounding $50,000 donation. Every penny that came in made Bat World Sanctuary a forever place for bats in need so innocent beings like Victoria have a sanctuary to live out their lives with all the freedom their healed injuries allow. On behalf of Victoria and all the bats yet to be saved in the years ahead, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. ♥
Everyone can agree how important social media is to a charity in spreading the word about a mission or goal, showcasing their work and why they should be supported, and of course, raising much-needed funds.
This is one of the reasons we have loved Facebook for so many years. We took our fan base from 1,500 to our current number of almost 145,000 in just a few years. These fans are critical to our organization. Our educational and our rescue posts are shared, reaching hundreds of thousands of people around the world, opening more eyes to both the importance and the plight of bats. Our pleas for help are answered by our many loyal (and treasured) supporters. And fundraisers are shared, helping us immensely in our quest to stay afloat and save as many animals as we can in the process. But sadly, all that is changing.
Over the last few months, less and less of our Facebook fans are seeing our posts. One some days we are back to only 1,500 fans seeing our feed – the same number we started with several years ago. There are several changes Facebook made that has caused this. One is not interacting with our page. If you don’t “like” a post we have made or comment frequently, you will stop receiving our posts. But lately even active fans have stopped seeing our daily posts for no reason at all. That’s because of another change made by Facebook: if you want to receive our feed you have to both like our page and also “opt in” to receive our daily posts or you never see one post from us. And yet another change that has occurred is something called “boosting”. If a page like ours wants all of our fans to see a certain post we have made, we have to “boost” that post by paying (advertising) for people who already like our page to see what we have posted. It’s discouraging to say the least.
This is one of the reasons we were excited to learn about a new social media platform called tsu (pronounced “sue”). Tsu is exciting in that your fans are yours to keep until THEY decide otherwise. And even better, tsu shares it’s advertising revenue with all users. Ad revenue is generated by ads appearing on the side of social media pages. The advertising companies pay sites like Facebook and tsu to have their ads appear in feeds. Facebook of course has made millions on revenue from these ads, but tsu actually shares the revenue with users. And the more active a tsu page is and the bigger the fan base, the more a money a tsu user can make. We aren’t talking millions or even thousands, but we are talking hundreds, which isn’t anything to scoff at. Bat World Sanctuary created a tsu page several months ago and we have earned almost $300 with a little over 3,500 fans, and we aren’t near as active (yet) on tsu as we are on Facebook.
We have shared our tsu page a dozen times or more on Facebook in hopes of some of our older fans seeing our page and hoping over to tsu to join us. However, last month I noticed that the posts I made inviting others to join us are VERY limited, with only a few hundred people seeing them. And just today, when I attempted to share a message and an invitation for others to join us on tsu, the post was completely blocked by Facebook.
Of course, it’s a free country and Facebook has the perfect right to not allow posts that involve a competitor, but on the other hand, Facebook is almost forcing people to jump ship.
But it gets worse. I just discovered that several photos I shared on Facebook with “Peekaboo the Smiling Bat” inviting others (in orange text) to join us on tsu were deleted, and the one photo that remains was edited and the content about tsu was removed. The portion of text that was removed included a link to join tsu and read something to the effect of “Peekaboo would like you to join us on tsu, a new social media page…” (Click here to view the edited post.)
Again, it’s a free country and Facebook is perfectly within its rights to run its business however it sees it, but editing our posts to essentially prevent free speech is just plain disturbing. For more proof of Facebook’s banning of tsu posts read this article: “Is Facebook afraid of social network rival tsu?”
Update, Jan. 2016: Facebook decided to once again allow posting links to tsu. However, the previous posts and photos promoting tsu were not restored and the post reach is extremely limited when tsu links are shared (meaning hardly anyone sees the message).
By Amanda Lollar, Founder & President, Bat World Sanctuary
In the early nineties, when I was still new at rehabbing bats, the common belief was that orphaned insectivorous bats could not be released back to the wild because they wouldn’t know how to catch food (according to research, their mothers taught them). After raising several orphans to young adulthood and watching them navigate a flight cage with ease I began to question the notion that they could not be released. After all, it was instinct for these orphans to fly and it was instinct for them to echolocate, so why wouldn’t they use those two skills to find food?
The orphans were rescued from our wild sanctuary of 100,000+ free-tailed bats. I decided to release a few hand-raised flighted orphans the following summer and then track their survival. I devised a way to permanently mark them that would not be detrimental to their health (such as banding, which is highly fatal). I finally decided on a small animal tattoo gun, and I chose the the right earlobe to mark the bat. The ear was chosen because it was easily visible when the bats hang upside down from the rafters. A microbat’s ears are very small so a number system could not be used. Instead I used simple dots. Throughout the nineties the only tattoo paste I found available was black. Then, in the early 2000’s I found green ink and switched to using that. Every orphan released in 2001 had one green dot, those released in 2002 had 2 green dots, and everything from 2003 forward had 3 green dots (because there simply wasn’t enough room on their tiny ears for more dots).
Every summer, after releasing orphans, I searched on a daily basis for a tattooed ear among the tens of thousands of faces and ears in the wild sanctuary. Finally, in 2008, a couple of weeks after releasing orphans, I found one hanging from the rafters. His belly was stuffed full, but with what? Could he have found a lactating female and been lucky enough to adopted by a new mom even though he was basically a teenager? As luck would have it he pooped in my hand when I lifted him off the rafter. This was very exciting because if his poop contained insect parts then it was proof that they could indeed find food on their own. I cradled the precious “sample” in my gloved hang like a teensy nugget of gold, took it back to our facility and examined it under a microscope. Low and behold, there were dozens of insect pieces, including shiny shell fragments from beetles. Finally, proof that insect-eating orphaned bats could be released and learn to forage for insects on their own.
But then more speculation arose: okay, so orphaned bats can be released and even survive, BUT, could they survive the annual migration to Mexico and back, and even raise young of their own? That question was answered when, finally, in 2010, I spotted a beautiful, healthy, lactating female on the rafters of our wild sanctuary with three green dots on her ear. Finding her among 100,000 other bats on the rafters was akin to finding a message in a bottle, something near impossible. She appeared to be around 5 years of age and she was proof that orphaned bats can be released, survive, migrate and even raise young of their own.
Over the past 20 years we’ve received thousands of calls from the public regarding grounded and injured bats. Over all these years I have continued to check the right ear of every single bat that came in, but never saw tattoo. On Sat night, August 15, 2015, around 10:30pm we received a call about a grounded bat in the city park. The bat was hoping on the ground and couldn’t get any lift. The caller had placed the bat into a box and called us right away. After we were back at the facility I had a chance to thoroughly examine the bat. She appeared old and seemed very tired, she had mites covering her wing membrane and her tail was injured. She has been grounded for a while because she was very thin. After hydrating her I did my usual check of the right ear and my jar dropped. There they were – two faded but magnificent green dots on her right ear. That meant she was saved as a starving orphan the summer of 2002, and she was now 13 years old. It took her a little while, but I could tell she slowly started to recognize her surroundings; the roosting pouches, the sounds of the other bats in rehab, and then finally the food, which she gratefully ate. She even nuzzled my finger when I stroked her tiny face after she ate.
The following morning I immediately went to check on her. Sadly, when I removed her from a roosting pouch I could tell she was dying. She passed away a few seconds later, in the same hands that saved her some 13 years ago. I am showing these photos after she died because she should be remembered for all she did during her lifetime. This beautiful, ragged little soul migrated over 30,000 miles on her way to and from Mexico every single year, she likely raised 6 to 8 youngsters of her own, and she ate an estimated 23,725,000 insect pests during her lifetime. And lastly, she is beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% proof positive that orphaned insectivorous bats can indeed be released to live the rich, full lives they deserve.
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.