The following letter was sent to Federal & State Authorities on Thursday, May 21st, requesting answers regarding the restriction on rehabilitation of bats that is occurring in several states across the US. (Read our initial position statement on these restrictions here.) While we have no idea if our efforts will help bats in need or if we will receive a response, we are trying in every way possible. Baby season is here and we can only hope that most bats will receive some kind of help regardless of the restrictions imposed by certain US states.
Dear State Agencies,
The majority of you have already received an email from Bat World Sanctuary regarding our position statement on the restrictions of bat rehabilitation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bat rehabilitators are in agreement that the release of rescued bats should be postponed for the time being, however, more states are now restricting the rescue of bats. Orphaned baby bat season has just started in the US. As shown in the linked files below, in the absence of skilled bat rehabilitators, the public will rescue bats on their own. The potential of a public health hazard is very concerning. We are therefore requesting these restrictions be lifted so that bats can be rescued by permitted and vaccinated rehabilitators rather than the unvaccinated and untrained public.
In light of these restrictions, we are also requesting answers to the following concerns:
1. Thousands of members of the public come into contact with bats on a daily basis across the US. Please explain what will be accomplished by restricting bat rehabilitation, by permitted rescuers, when no restriction is being placed on the general public. Please see the hundreds of public comments made about their experiences in rescuing bats.
2. Bats commonly fly across state lines. Please explain what will be accomplished by restricting bat rehabilitation in one state when a bordering state is not calling for any restrictions at all.
3. As mentioned above, baby bat season has just started and hundreds of orphaned bats will be found by the public over the next two months. When a member of the public calls a bat rehabilitator in a restricted state, and that bat rehabilitator is restricted from helping, please explain the steps you plan to take for the hundreds of unvaccinated people who will take orphaned bats into their homes this summer in an attempt to care for the pup themselves (see Facebook poll and comments).
4. Some states are recommending that animal control agencies should be contacted for downed bats. However, animal control agencies do not have the capacity to handle wildlife calls during this pandemic. Many of these agencies are operating with reduced staff and shorter hours, and/or are overloaded with pets being surrendered because people mistakenly believe that they can contract the virus directly from their pets. Many of these agencies are likely to refer the citizen to a rehabilitator. Additionally, several members of the public who have called their state wildlife agencies for help with a downed bat were instructed to call a bat rehabilitator, even though that rehabilitator was instructed not to accept bats by the exact same state agency. What solution do you recommend for the public who is caught in a confusing circle between animal control agencies, state agencies, and bat rehabilitators?
5. Recently, an individual found a bat on his boat and reached out to a bat rehabilitator in Washington state. The rehabilitator instructed the finder to place the bat into a tree. This individual instead took the bat to a veterinarian. So, rather than the bat being exposed to only the finder and the rehabilitator, the bat was instead exposed to the veterinarian, the clinic staff and clients who were at the clinic with their pets. Taking this account into consideration, what is proposed as far as making all practicing veterinarians aware that they should not take in bats in states where bat rehabilitation is restricted?
6. Bat rehabilitators are extremely knowledgeable and we are on the front line of defense regarding the health of our North American bats. We have the ability to quickly recognize illnesses in bats and are willing to help in this potential crisis, such as holding bats for release and testing bats when kits become available. Rather than tying the hands of those who can be of benefit and thereby exacerbating the situation, please explain why the skills of bat rehabilitators are not instead being utilized.
Additionally, there has been recent speculation that the human cold may also be transmitted to bats. We created a poll designed specifically for bat rehabilitators to determine the validity of this statement. The results of the poll indicates that out of the 49 bat rehabilitators who responded to the survey, not one felt that a cold was transmitted to bats in their care over the course of decades of rehabilitation. See results.
We are now receiving calls from the public, across the US, as they are unable to obtain help for bats they have found. For example, on May 21, 2020, an individual in Wisconsin called Bat World Sanctuary after she was unable to find help for a bat that was stuck on fly paper. The bat was originally found two days prior, on May 19th. The finder initially called her local WI wildlife rehabilitators who told her that they were restricted from helping. The finder felt she could not let the bat die so she took care of the bat herself. The caller explained that she had used gloves and vegetable oil to remove the bat from the fly paper but she was concerned that she had released the bat too soon. Her concerns are warranted given a bat stuck to fly paper and removed with oil requires bathing in Dawn dish washing liquid, subcutaneous fluids and supportive care before being released.
This is the scenario that is being created over and over again because the hands of bat rehabilitators are tied. These restrictions are frustrating and heartbreaking to the bat rehabilitators who take these calls, but more importantly, these restrictions endanger the lives of the public by exposing them to rabies. These restrictions cause more bats to be exposed to Covid-19 than would have been exposed if they were simply rescued by a bat rehabilitator. The only solution to keep both the bats and the public safe is to allow bat rehabilitators to accept bats and hold them until such time as it is deemed safe to release bats into the wild.
We hope you will consider the deleterious effects of restricting bat rescue, and we look forward to receiving your answers and explanations to the above six concerns.
Founder & President
Bat World Sanctuary