Over the past week we have been much busier than usual rescuing bats that had become trapped in several businesses that occupy a downtown block in Mineral Wells, Texas. Many of the buildings are old and in need of repair, which allowed the bats access through loose bricks and window frames. The bats ended up in a barber shop, a vacant storage building and a clothing store. As this is being written we have received calls with more bats to rescue today.
Because of all the rescues and emergency treatments for the incoming bats, we have not had time to share some fantastic news. Over the last two weeks we have received two incredible matching grant offers for the lifetime care of the Michigan 90! One challenge is for $2,000 and the other is for $15,000!!! Both grants have been entered into our fundraiser page – please click here to help us earn these wonderful challenge grants for the Michigan 90.
Our progress in creating a life of joy for the Michigan 90 has continued during the many hours we have devoted to rescuing local bats as well as those worldwide. These once abused and neglected bats are doing so well. The little balding short-tailed fruit bats are growing a lush coat of fur, and Chessie, Walter and Statler have all gained weight. With their toe claws properly trimmed, they spend their new-found freedom exploring enrichment items and finding bits of mango and papaya hidden in treat cups throughout the enclosure. In particular, the African fruit bats have just blossomed. Their shyness has disappeared and they now wait eagerly with the other fruit bats at treat time, excitedly squawking in anticipation of a melon treat and even impatiently reaching out to get the treat faster as it heads their way.
Bat House Pup Catcher
Please remember, baby bat season is just around the corner. If you have a bat house please consider adding a pup catcher to save tiny babies who may accidentally fall from the house. It’s simple to create, costs very little and is proven to save lives. Click here for free instructions.
In addition to the 300+ permanent residents cared for daily at Bat World Sanctuary, we rescue hundreds of bats annually and return them back to the wild. We also support organizations both nationally and internationally that rescue bats. We track our efforts on our Rescue Log which highlights the work we’re doing across the globe. When you join the Sunshine Rescue Club you help us continue our work on behalf of bats the world over. Click here to learn more about the Sunshine Rescue Club.
Summertime is busy for everyone, including bats. Baby season for our North American bats starts in May and ends in early September, depending on the species. Here are a few tips you can use to help save the lives of the battie buddies living in your own neighborhood.
FROG LOGS SAVE BATS
If you have an outdoor pool please add a frog log and well as a critter skimmer (comes in round and square). Both of these items can save countless lives every summer, like little “Skimmer” above, a frog-sized evening bat who was found clinging to clump of leaves in a swimming pool in Colleyville, TX following a severe thunderstorm. Little Skimmer floated in the pool until he was discovered the following morning by the homeowner. He has aspiration pneumonia and is currently recovering at our rescue center Bat World MidCities. A frog log may have allowed him to find his way out of the pool and safely fly away.
BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU MOW
Some bats roost in trees which makes their lives difficult because they frequently attacked by both blue jays and crows. Mother red bats (as seen above) will attempt to protect her babies by covering them with her wings, but if that doesn’t work she will gather all of her pups up and try to fly away with them. This can sometimes be accomplished successfully with newborn babies, but when pups are older the weight is too great for mom to carry and the entire little family can end up on the ground (where they are often found by people or pets, or worse, are hit by lawn mowers). If they aren’t rescued, grounded moms will stay with her babies, sacrificing herself in the process. Please check your yard for downed bats before mowing. If you find a bat in need click here to find a rescuer in your area.
CEILING FAN BLADES BREAK TINY ARM BONES
Please give them a break, by NOT giving them a break! Turn any outdoor ceiling fans OFF at night to avoid tragic accidents with bats that may fly under your porch looking for a tasty insect treat. You’ll save a little on your electric bill while also saving little lives.
SAVE BATS IN PALMS
Did you know that at least 12 of our 47 US bat species use those dried palm frond “skirts” as natural bat houses? Don’t trim dried fronds in spring or summer to protect baby bats and birds, and try to leave some dried fronds year round so bats have a safe place to raise their pups in summer or to hibernate in winter. In addition, cosmetic trimming of the fronds can make palm trees more susceptible to heat stress and drought, so leaving some fronds helps both the trees AND bats!
PLEASE DON’T DESTROY NURSERIES
It’s baby season for bats in the US, so please don’t destroy bat nurseries! THERE IS NO HUMANE WAY TO EXCLUDE A BAT COLONY DURING BABY SEASON. Most bats give birth to just one pup starting in late spring and summer, and if you seal out a bat colony now, or trim down their palm frond home, baby bats will be left behind to die. If you have an unwanted bat colony in your attic, ensure there’s no way they can get into the home’s interior but wait until the end of summer before having the colony excluded. Once this pup’s little, stubby wings grow out and she learns to hunt, she will be able to eat more than 1000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour! Please give her a chance to grow up.
INSTALL PUP CATCHERS
We are already receiving reports of baby bats falling from bat houses and other areas where new moms have formed nursery colonies. This sometimes occurs when pregnant moms move into a roost, not understanding that the population will double when their babies are born. The pups grow quickly and it doesn’t take long before the roost becomes over crowded and overheated. Installing a pup catcher is very simple to construct and costs very little. It’s a simple net that catches fallen pups and allows them to climb back inside. Pup catchers can even be made to fit inside barns, under the eves of houses and other areas where babies may be falling. If you have a bat house with bats, or have noticed pups falling from another type of roost. please don’t hesitate to install one right away. Click here for free instructions.
More lives can be saved by sharing the information on this page, so please share!
Special thanks to Cindy Myers for the use of her graphics and text, to Jacqueline Sutherland for saving Skimmer and sending us his photo, and to Taylor Flatbush for saving the red bat mom and her babies, and sending us her photo as well.
On December the 9th we had an odd delivery of two containers (photo right) covered in cloths and found in our delivery hall after we came back from a supply run. The containers held 19 non-releasable bats of various ages including 7 free-tails, 3 big browns, 8 pallid bats and 1 Myotis bat. There was a note attached to one container that read “Please take care of them.”
All the bats except one had injuries that had long since healed, including Ruffles, who’s ears appeared to be damaged from frostbite. The bats also had bright eyes and were a good weight so it was obvious that someone had been taking good care of them for quite a while.
The bats gradually settled in, making friends with their new free-tail and big brown roost mates. Some of the bats moved into the simulated cave provided for the handicapped bats while the pallid bats chose to move into another simulated cave at the opposite end of the flight area.
Little Ruffles stood out from the group of pallid bats from the very beginning, not only because of his ears, but also from his incredibly sweet personality. His wings have a slight curvature to them, indicating that he may have been rescued as an orphan and developed metabolic bone disease from lack of calcium. The condition rendered him nonreleasable as his flight abilities are severely compromised.
While we have no idea what Ruffles’ life story was or how he came to have such damaged ears, we do know that he is very happy with his life with us. Any condition he may develop in the future will be addressed right away, and he will have the best care we can possibly give him for the rest of his sweet little life.
Footage of the pallid bat cam where Ruffles shares his home with his rootmates.
During the summer months, hundreds of Brazilian free-tailed bat mothers set up nursery colonies in the attics of vacant buildings in a dilapidated part of a nearby town. Occasionally, a baby bat will become orphaned from the mother not returning to the roost for various reasons including being injured in a storm or becoming the victim of a predator such as an owl, hawk or human. Orphaned bats go in search of mom and often end up grounded on the outside of the buildings, so Bat World volunteers walk the area early every summer morning to look for pups that can be saved.
“Little Ernie” survived despite tremendous odds being stacked against him. He was stuck inside a old, vacant building for at least two days before being accidentally spotted through a glass door on July 14, 2016 by volunteer Moriah. Luckily we were able to find the building owner (Ernie B.) and we called him immediately. Ernie B. said he would go check and see if the bat was still there and call us back. A short while later he returned our call and said the little bat was already dead.
Later that night we went to check the area again and decided to recheck the building, just in case. We immediately spotted the same little bat behind the glass door, very much alive and struggling to find a way out. He was covered in dust and laying on the floor with a large amount of debris clinging to his little feet, which he dragged behind him as he feebly crawled across the floor. It was easy to tell by the way that he was moving that he was very weak from the weight of the debris as well as a lack of food and water. Periodically he would stop and rest, which made him look deceased.
We called Ernie B. again and thankfully he was available to come and open the door so we so we could rescue Little Ernie.
Little Ernie’s strong will and determined personality helped him survive the odds that were stacked against him. But as it turned out, Little Ernie was born with deformed fingertips which will prevent him from ever flying free, so being stuck behind those glass doors at the right time were the best odds he could have hoped for.
Ernie will never again have to beat the odds. He will be cared for at Bat World Sanctuary for the rest of his life, where the odds are always stacked in his favor.
It is with a heavy heart that we bring you the news that Andy, a Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), passed away on June 3, 2016, two months after his 15th birthday.
Andy was born at Bat World Sanctuary on April 12, 2001. Free-tailed bats are estimated to live 15 years in the wild, however, Andy’s mother, Andrea, passed away in 2011 at the age of 19. Andy was an accidental birth and part of a behavioral study conducted on the mating behavior of T. brasiliensis, published in the Southwestern Naturalist.
Andy never learned to feed himself in captivity so he was hand fed twice daily every single day. During his life span with us he received 11,052 hand fed meals. Goodbye sweet Andy, you are sorely missed, especially twice a day at feeding time.
This video created in celebration of Andy’s 15th Birthday.
On February 3rd, 2016, a plea for help on our Facebook page about an issue in Houston, Texas that involved an elderly woman beating free-tailed bats with her cane. The news video that was included 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. Free-tailed bats 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 this woman killed had the potential of eating 27,375,000 harmful insects in its lifetime.
Because Houston is 300 miles from Bat World Sanctuary, we immediately alerted rescuers in the area well as Marcelino Benito, the reporter at KHOU 11 news who covered the story and asked to be contacted if anyone could help. We left messages with Mr. Benito through email and his Facebook page that night as well as the following morning. We 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, we 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. 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.
The five bats were transferred to a rescuer we had on standby, and the following evening they arrived at our rescue center Bat World MidCities where Kate Rugroden, our Director of Special Projects stayed up most of the night treating and stabilizing their injuries. Sadly, one of the five survivors, Ella, died the following morning.
If there is a brighter note to this story it is that dozens of people came together in a show of concern for these bats and the elderly woman as well. And best of all, this colony of bats will no longer be in harms way since they have been humanely excluded. A very special thank you to Bonnie and her crew at 911Wildlife – the bats would not have had a chance without your intervention. Thank you, Marsha P., who remained on standby to receive 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.
The remaining survivors, Timmy, Dash, Jane Ann, and Bee have fully recovered and will live their lives at our Bat World MidCities rescue center. Going forward, the Houston Four will always know the peace, comfort and respect they so deserve.
Amanda Lollar, Volunteer Executive Director/Chief Caregiver
Amanda has acted in an unpaid position as Executive Director and Senior 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.
Moriah Champagne, Bat Caregiver
Moriah 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. Moriah 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.”
Timber Champagne, Assistant Caregiver Timber has grown up in a home that rescues animals from dogs and cats to horses and pigs, and she would not want it any other way. She loves animals of all kinds very dearly. Timber volunteered at Bat World for 2 years before joining the team and says that, “During those years I have learned enormous amounts about these animals. Most of which would change society’s mind about bats being a ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ creature if they would only take a minute to get educated about them.” She looks forward to every day that she gets to work with the bats and finds that each one has their own personality. She plans on pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine, focusing on exotics, and hopes to include bat care in her practice.
Bridget Cameron, Assistant Director
Bridget has always been fascinated with critters other people dislike, believing that all animals have a place in the world and should be appreciated for their intrinsic value. Bridget’s professional life took her from the coast guard to college, then working as an Environmental and Water Conservation Specialist in TX and CA. Bridget spent four years conducting bat surveys for CALTRANS, then obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Captive Wildlife Care and Education. She did a short stint at a domestic animal sanctuary in Wyoming before coming to Bat World Sanctuary, where she is finally able to fulfill her dream of working with animals and educating people on the beauty and the special niche bats have in the world.
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.
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.
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.
As I mentioned in the craft shop rescue story, I think some people have an unrealistically tame vision of what animal rescue really is. I know I did. We often get inquiries about volunteering for a day or two at Bat World, and while we know these good people mean well, it doesn’t really work. We wish it did, we’d all love a little break once in a while, make no mistake about that. Still, when someone comes in for such a brief time, that someone ends up being an extra task rather than an extra hand. You have to be trained, and by the time you know anything, you’re gone. And that’s assuming that you knew what you were in for and didn’t panic at first contact with bat guano.
This is true even of those with prior experience volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries; with such unusual and unique animals as bats, very little carries over. Many veterinarians are loathe to even attempt work on bats for that very reason: it’s specialized knowledge, takes a long time to learn and is completely useless in any other context. Given that few people are going to be bringing bats in for treatment, they mostly don’t bother, and it’s hard to blame them for not wanting to learn a skill that they’ll likely never use more than once or twice, if at all.
Having said that, here’s what you’d really be in for if you spent a day doing what Amanda, Angela and I do at Bat World Sanctuary:
Fruit bats are where the “newbies” always start, so I’ll start there as well. It’s the larger of the two flight enclosures by far, as fruit bats are themselves far larger than their insect bat cousins. Toy baskets, foliage, and all manner of interesting playthings array the ceiling, secluded roosting areas are all along the walls and especially in the corners, and at least one or two bats are flying about most of the time even during the day. The roosting areas are mostly segregated by species, albeit by the bats themselves, not us.
They mix freely when awake and playing at night, but they mingle a lot less when it comes to roosting and sleeping. There’s an area for the Straw-colored fruit bats, one for the Jamaicans, one for the Egyptians, and while there’s an area that many Carollias (think Lil Drac), many others seem to be completely indiscriminate with who they bunk with and can be found in little cliques within the other bats’ roosts. The floor is thickly padded with 4 inches of high density foam which is permanently covered with soft vinyl. The front half of the cage is quite dim for the sake of the Egyptians, who dislike bright light, which is unusual for fruit bats. The back walls are covered with murals depicting forest and jungle scenery. You hear them, you see them and you are totally in their world because of the simulated natural environment. I can’t emphasize this enough: it’s their world, not ours. It is magical.
Fabio, a Jamaican fruit bat , is groomed first thing. You may have seen the video of this that we recently posted on Youtube where he is being brushed by my fellow volunteer, Angela. We always take care of Fabio first because he chooses to roost with the shy, skittish Egyptians (Peekaboo excepted, of course). Even Amanda – who hand-raised no small amount of them from orphaned pups – can’t walk underneath their roost without raising an absolute chaos of churning air and slapping wings as ten or fifteen immediately take flight with all possible haste. It’s shocking how disorienting this is; those bats move a huge amount of air with their wings. Huge. Coupled with the fact that bats aren’t conventionally considered to be “powerful” animals, such a sudden display of exactly that really throws you the first time you find it thundering all around you. Since they are nocturnal, the morning route is right about their bedtime, which is why we do it first thing: caring for Fabio initially gives them time to settle back down and go to sleep.
That bears mentioning on its own: we do all our work when these animals naturally sleep, and we have to constantly be aware of this. Some disturbance is unavoidable, but we try to minimize it. Get in early, get it done, and let them be. Until treat time.
Fabio will suddenly decide when grooming is over and that he needs to be back in his roost now (see video), and then it’s washing and refilling the five large water bowls and several dispensers that we fill with organic fruit juice. Then we collect the approximately 20+ food dishes dispersed throughout the flight enclosure. Mere empty remnants of a night of foraging amongst the variety of fruit and tasty supplements. Random fact: if the bananas are still green, there will be nothing left in the dishes. They love green bananas, and so we do too; it makes the cleanup easier, and besides, this is the resident colony. They’re here with us because there was nowhere else for them to go to lead a happy life. It’s literally our job to make them happy.
Once the food and water dishes are taken care of, we pull up the newspaper that we tape below the hanging fruit kabobs and then pick up all the toys. Another random fact: more than once I’ve found the front toy basket completely empty, with all its toys beneath the back basket, clearly indicating that the bats were taking toys from one basket and attempting to drop them into the other.
They were playing basketball. Improvisational batty basketball. Carollias have been known to drop fruit and toys on volunteers for fun, so there is a precedent for it.
Below the fruit and yam spattered newspaper and covering all the floor is a network of sheets. They’re washed in three separate loads that we do in a specific order so that we can get them back down as quickly as possible. They’re to protect the padding installed onto the floor of the enclosure, as we obviously can’t simply pull that up and toss it into the washer like we can the sheets. They also give a soft alternative to the bare vinyl covering of the padded floor, such workarounds being commonly necessary, as there’s not exactly a lot of companies out there manufacturing floor padding for bat enclosures. Out here on the frontier, you have to improvise.
Then there’s the Blimp. Well, it’s not a zeppelin. It’s actually a contraption of Amanda’s devising intended for the use of convalescing bats but amusingly used as a makeshift hammock by lazy bats, since we rarely have a bat with a genuine need for the Blimp. It’s a plastic container with metal ribbing attached to the open top like an upside down ship’s hull. Soft green netting is draped above this ribbing, and in the container itself is a thick, cushy layer of foam for them to lay on. It needs to be wiped down thoroughly, and it’s likely here that a new volunteer will first encounter the dreaded bat poop. I try to think of it as icky plant fertilizer. And it is that; guano is very highly prized as some of the best fertilizer, having been shown to be comprised of 15-22% non-burning nitrogen.
Again, because bats sleep during the day, there’s somewhat of a rush to do all of this. We try to be finished by noon at the latest. That might sound easy, but you have to keep in mind that before you even got in there to start, you helped fill orders when you first arrived. Just this morning, Angela was busy with 13 Adopt-a-Bat orders that took almost two hours, making everything I’ve just described above suddenly turn into a mad rush so the bats can sleep. Orders are great because they help to fund critical items needed for the bats, so it’s all very connected.
Once you’re done with the flight enclosures, it’s time to prepare the fruit. You’ll be cutting a lot of fruit into little cubes here. A lot. And while there’s a big chopper/dicer gizmo that will cut the fourteen apples into cubes, but only after you’ve cut them into finger-width slices, and the honeydew too, once you’ve cut half of one into eighths, and even the tropical fruit cocktail, once you’ve thoroughly washed all that syrup off of it, but there’s no machine to help with the EIGHTY BANANAS except for a short, intentionally dulled knife so you can cut them up very quickly while holding them in your hand. There’s a definite zen to it after a while, but at first it seems like a mighty job, and one to be done every day. In addition to this is a big batch of berries and a variable addition to the giant blue tub into which all this diced fruit goes: figs, mango, romaine lettuce, celery, carrots, pears among many others. Then, once all this is done, you stash the very heavy tub in the bat fridge – the bat’s fridge is much bigger than the volunteer’s fridge – with your brown-black banana stained hands. The stains won’t wash off. They only wear away, although it doesn’t take too long.
Still, there’s one really great upside to it: once the honeydew is cut, you gather up a mix and head back into the enclosure to hand out the treats. There are mobiles with four dangling cups each to fill, and the Carollias will be all over the first before you’re even done filling the second, but there’s also a couple of dispensers that pose a puzzle for the bats to figure out. One is a series of cups (pictured at right) dangling on a chain that screw into each other, bottom to top. It boggles my mind that the bats can unscrew these, but they can, and do so nightly. The other locks shut with a keylike opener. At some point we really need to get footage somehow of the bats working their way into these, if only for my sake. I haven’t seen it yet, but I really want to.
Then comes the best part: hand-feeding honeydew to the bats that will accept it. That’s a few dozen of them if you’re Amanda. If you’re not, it’s five: Poppy, Mr. Impley and his two girlfriends (who all three roost together) and Peekaboo herself. With Poppy, since she’s such an incredibly shy bat, it helps to softly say her name before you peek into her roost so as not to startle her. One of the best parts of my time at Bat World thus far is Poppy getting more and more used to me, and I look forward to feeding her probably more than anything else. With Peekaboo, it’s simply finding a moment for her to grab the melon from you with the skittish Egyptians getting stirred up at your approach. She’ll usually wait for her chance, but sometimes she’ll get frustrated with her roostmates and come out to meet you. Mr. Impley and his girlfriends are easy. Imps is so trusting that I think he would snatch melon out of the jaws of a wolf if he could. Imps will even try to get your attention when you walk past in the course of your duties by stretching his wing way out. His girlfriends are more shy and took some winning over in the beginning, but once they’re used to you, they’ll snatch melon from your hand every bit as unceremoniously as Imps will.
Treat time is also the set time for health checks , where we look in on all the roosts to make sure everyone looks bright-eyed and happy. Along that same line, every now and then one of our elderly (or young) bats will take a fall, and we wear headlamps in the flight cage to ensure that we can easily spot them. These falls are onto a padded floor, so it doesn’t hurt them, but the same ones that fall often can’t take off from the ground and simply flap along the floor. Most will flop their way below their roost and climb the mesh walls back up to their roost, but some need help. They’ll resist your attempts to assist them at first – earning the trust of a bat that has very likely been abused, intentionally or otherwise, takes a long, long time – but a gentle voice and a respectful approach will surprise you with its efficacy.
It’s such a simple thing, but it’s where many zoos fall short; Bat World has taken in more than a few bats that have fallen onto the unpadded concrete flooring in zoo enclosures. Those that don’t make it to us either suffer while well-meaning people who don’t know how to treat injured bats try and fail to nurse them back to health, or they’re simply euthanized because they can no longer fly or have been disfigured by injuries inflicted by the fall. Just one more reason in a very long list of why bats shouldn’t be in zoos, and one that gets a lot closer to the heart of their well-being than any disruption of their natural sleep patterns. That’s not to downplay the forced diurnal schedule; it takes a heavy toll over time, cutting their natural lifespans severely.
There’s a young Jamaican fruit bat that came to us recently that’s just learning to fly. He falls fairly often, and the other day he fell right in front of me, far from his roost. If he’d been closer, it would have been preferable to let him do it himself, but as it was he likely fell because he, in his youthful exuberance, wore himself out flying. Traveling all that way across the ground would have only further taxed him. I approached him slowly, telling him it was okay, asking him to please let me help him back up, but he hopped and flapped steadily away from me, farther from his roost. We held a steady distance; he flapped a few times, I took a step, and right about the time I was about to give up, he stopped. Very, very slowly, I closed the distance and reached out, clasping him from both sides, gently folding his wings and scooping him up. He let me.
Many bats, when frightened, will cover their head with their wings much like a person might when panic overwhelms them, and he started to, but he didn’t, nor did he try to bite or struggle. He could have; he was just resting in my hands and could have easily gotten away, but he didn’t. All he did was let me return him to his roost near the ceiling. I am learning that bats have an uncanny ability to be able to recognize when you are genuinely trying to help them.
On a banana run to our local Wal-Mart the other day, someone in the parking lot asked me what we “do” with the bats we take in. That’s what we do with them, and that’s why we do all this work. It is for Them.
An individual who was hired to “liquidate” the zoo’s animals called us about placing the remaining 8 bats. Sadly, the others had been sold to the cruel exotic pet trade. This individual originally planned to keep the remaining 8 bats and breed them, selling the “stock.” Thankfully, we talked her out of it, and all eight bats made it safely to Bat World Sanctuary in Sept of 2011. Boo2’s mother was pregnant when she arrived and Boo2 was born a few months later.
Boo2 became best buddies with Peekaboo, an Egyptian fruit bat who was rescued from similar conditions in 2009. It was this friendship that earned him the name Boo2. Peekaboo and Boo2 love to spend time with each other and are never seen far apart.
Boo2 has so much personality that we have nicknamed him the “cage clown.” He’s never seen without an endearing, goofy grin on his face. Twice daily, keepers conduct visual exams of the bats under the guise of doling out melon treats to any bat who will take one. Boo2 positions himself in front of the keeper in any way possible in order to receive treat after treat.
We are so grateful to have rescued Boo2 from the dire conditions to which he would have been born, and a situation from which he most likely would have perished. Thank you to all who adopt and support Boo2 so that he and his kind can live a protected, happy and enriched life at Bat World Sanctuary.