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.

Bear Grylls, Bat Killer

By Mitch Gilley, Associate Writer.

In a clip from Man vs Wild (formerly on The Discovery Channel) Bear Grylls used smoke to flush bats from a cave and then struck the fleeing, terrified animals with a makeshift club and stomped on them with what seemed to be glee, jokingly referring to it as “bat tennis.”

Yes, this actually happened, and it is not an isolated incident. Aside from bats, Bear has killed alligators, monitor lizards, capybaras and even boas. None of these animals are killed in anywhere near a humane manner; they are simply beaten to death for the amusement of the viewing public.

This can’t be overstated enough: for those who care about animals, the videos available online showing his frequent atrocities are very, very difficult to watch.  If you seek them out to see for yourself, please be aware of this.

In replying to email complaints about the show, The Discovery Channel defended itself by saying that Bear was imparting valuable survival information and, unbelievably, that it was his Bear’s “style!” Such “stylistic” concerns as applied to people comprises much of the notoriety of serial killers.  As for the conveyance of vital survival tips, opting to beat, kill and eat whatever animals are near is very clearly a rash and inadvisable course of action. Real survival experts – the ones who actually survive in the wilderness rather than preen their sad macho survivalist fantasies on television – say that pretty much everything Bear Grylls does or says to do will get you killed. There is no worthwhile information whatsoever that can only be conveyed by filming oneself killing innocent, healthy animals, and terrorizing and bludgeoning sleeping bats right at their doorstep.

Let us not forget that Bear Grylls was exposed for staying in hotels overnight while filming a show that falsely portrayed him as embattled by harsh wilderness.

Bear Grylls eating the raw meat of a deceased zebra which may have been killed for the program “Man vs Wild.”

Profiting from the utterly pointless killing of these bats – and all animals – is unilaterally unacceptable, and while the show may now be cancelled, Discovery still has the video and others like it up for viewing on their website, meaning that they as well as Bear are still profiting from engineering, perpetrating and showing the deaths of these healthy, innocent animals to audiences worldwide.

Please contact those responsible for fouling our televisions with his presence. Please also feel free to join the Bear Barbaric Bear Grylls Facebook page and SIGN OUR PETITION.

(Please note that we were unable to find an email address for anyone at Discovery, however, you may also leave an opinion here. To contact the Ethics Hotline in the U.S. and Canada, please dial (800) 398-6395.)


Please either fax or mail a letter to John S. Hendricks, Chairman, Discovery Communications, LLC at the following address:

John S. Hendricks, Chairman
One Discovery Place
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: 240-662-2000
Fax: 240-662-1868

Dear John S. Hendricks,
There is a truly repellent video hosted on the Discovery Channel’s website compels me to write to you. The offending video is from the defunct show Man vs. Wild and details the efforts of Bear Grylls as he terrorizes, beats to death and devours harmless bats, ostensibly to demonstrate some tribal hunting technique and to impart supposedly “valuable” survival tactics.

Specifically, Mr. Grylls uses smoke and flame to drive the bats from their home and their sleep, strikes them from the air with a homemade bludgeon, stomps on their broken, fragile, defenseless bodies and then devours them alive, all for the benefit of an audience that will never in a million years find themselves forced to rely on what they’ve seen on television to survive in the Chinese wilderness.

That such brutality is so flimsily justified by anthropological and naturalist pretenses is offensive enough, but it cannot possibly overshadow the brutality itself. After hearing the video, it seemed unbelievable – even possibly illegal – that such things could or would be shown, and particularly on a reputable channel as Discovery. If teenagers spent the weekend filming themselves doing the exact same thing, they would of course be arrested and charged with animal cruelty.

It was profoundly disappointing then to see that it was not only aired, but choreographed and filmed at great effort and expense. Worse, it was done solely to entertain and to glorify Mr. Grylls as a strong and courageous survivalist. As this is a fabrication, as it is now common knowledge that many or most of Mr. Grylls’ stunts were staged, as everyone now knows that he was spending his nights in hotel rooms rather than the wilderness he professed to survive in for days on end, not only is all his demagoguery rendered suspect, but it cannot be credibly said that those bats died for educational purposes, nor indeed for any other purpose than the facile excitement of an audience.

Profiting from the brutal and inhumane killing of these animals in pursuit of what is essentially a modern day blood sport is wrong, and we ask that the “bat tennis” video be removed from your website along with all others in which Bear Grylls beats animals to death. As a media operation that purports to be educational, fostering such cruelty and disrespect toward the creatures we share the earth with is unconscionable. What was done to them cannot be undone, but you can from this point on respect their suffering and not peddle it as despicable and retrograde entertainment.

Again, I implore The Discovery Channel to remove all videos of Bear Grylls mutilating, killing and eating innocent animals from your website as well as other websites including YouTube and other video channels.

[Your name]


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