By Mitch Gilley
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.