This contest was created to help us raise funds to care for orphaned and injured bats.
Each tattoo (see below) has been assigned a number which donors will use when casting their votes. The tattoo receiving the most votes wins an autographed, matted print of Peekaboo as shown below. The winner will also receive a plush bat of their choice. Limit one tattoo per person. Deadline for submission is June 30th, midnight CST.
Click the image to be taken to a page to view the 50+ tattoos. Each tattoo is assigned a number. Once you pick your favorite, return here to donate/vote. When voting please be sure to list the number of the tattoo you are voting on in the notes section. Each dollar donated counts as one vote. Voting will take place from July 1st through July 10th. Winner will be notified on or by July 12th.
WINNER: Congrats to bat tat owner #54! Here is the final count:
They have had thousands of bats roosting in their downtown buildings for several years. And even though they sometimes create an odor, the city wants the bats to stay in the area because of the tremendous amount of insect control these bats provide.
On May 21, 2016, Bat World’s Director of Special Projects, Kate Rugroden, met with approximately 15 residents and local officials from the City of Palestine and members of the East Texas Chapter of Master Naturalists, to discuss how best to handle the humane removal and ultimate preservation of several colonies of bats from historic buildings in the downtown Palestine area.
Several ideas were discussed, including installing bat houses on the affected buildings and installing ‘rocket’ style bat towers throughout the city. We also covered ways to engage the community, such as a bat fair, bat house building events, educational programs, and news articles/press releases.
One promising idea being considered is creating a sanctuary that has sufficient space around it for a decent perimeter as well as places to build patios for viewing. One building (built in 1913) suffered a catastrophic structural failure some years ago. Originally a 4-story structure, the 3rd and 4th floors collapsed and the roof fell in. One suggestion, which seems to have a lot of traction, is to have that building fitted out as a bat sanctuary. There are open areas on three sides of the building which would establish a safe perimeter and allow businesses to set up viewing areas, where visitors could watch the nightly emergence. The fourth side of the building contains large picture windows. The local middle and high school students could be given the opportunity to design educational window displays, paint murals, etc. City staff would be responsible for checking the building periodically, removing excess guano and ensuring the building is secure.
The project is expected to take several years to complete, given the number of buildings involved. The East Texas Master Naturalists will be active participants, assisting with outreach, public education, and building bat houses. Bat World Sanctuary’s involvement will include consulting on design and placement of bat houses, educational programs and materials, and providing contact information for additional resources.
We are extremely pleased to be part of this wonderful initiative, and the enthusiasm demonstrated by the people of Palestine for protecting the bats is encouraging beyond measure.
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.
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.
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.
Amanda Lollar, volunteer Executive Director/Lead Caregiver
Amanda has acted in an unpaid position as Executive Director and Lead Animal Caregiver since 1994. She is an author of both scientific and popular literature about bats, including her most recent work, Standards and Medical Management for Captive Insectivorous Bats. In August of 2016 Amanda received The Carol Noon Award for Sanctuary Excellence and has twice been nominated for the Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading prize for conservation. Click here to read her CV.
Terri Smith, Assistant Director Terri has a background in medical transcription and also worked for years within educational systems developing lifeskill programs for special needs children. Terri has 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 the bats.” 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!
Mariah Cognac, Assistant Caregiver
Mariah has been fortunate to have worked with many species during her time volunteering at rehab facilities and working at the Dallas Zoo. She has a B.S. in Aquatics and Fisheries Biology and enjoys spending time on the water. Since she was a small child she has surrounded herself with the company of animals, basically welcoming anything with hooves, paws, scales or claws. Mariah feels as though conservation and education are key to the preservation of species. “So many people have disdain for bats only because they know very little about them. I’m so pleased to have found Bat World and look forward to not only expanding my knowledge of bats, but also sharing that information with others.”
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 well over a decade 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.
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.