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.
Tinkerbell, a Jamaican fruit bat, is a sweet natured and endearingly odd little bat. To know her, you’d never think that her coming into the world had been so heartbreakingly grim.
Her mother was one of the many unfortunate bats that had become ensnared in the exotic pet trade, where bats inevitably live short lives of loneliness and terror. Like so many others in her predicament, Tinkerbell’s mother languished in a captivity wholly unsuited for bats and eventually died giving birth to her daughter. When Tinkerbell arrived at Bat World Sanctuary, she was, as is sadly common for bat pups whose mothers have died in childbirth, still clinging to her mother’s body.
Thankfully, things took a turn for the better; her owner, likely looking for ways to care for a newborn bat, came across Bat World’s Facebook page and learned how hard a pet’s life is for bats. It was too late for Tinkerbell’s mother, but not Tinkerbell herself, and the owner delivered the newborn to Bat World Sanctuary and asked us to keep spreading the word about keeping bats as pets. Were it not for her owner’s kind heart and willingness to admit she’d been wrong, Tinkerbell likely wouldn’t have made it either.
Tinkerbell was hand-raised at Bat World and has grown into a healthy and slightly eccentric adulthood. For whatever reason, be it her traumatic entry into the world or simply her odd little personality, she insists on roosting and eating by herself in the “bat hut” that serves as the halfway house for new arrivals. The bat hut is meant as temporary security for orphaned bats who are learning to adapt to the flight cage, but Tinkerbell has made it her permanent home. It’s not that Tinkerbell fears the other bats; she plays and flies alongside them nightly, and even enjoys visitors that pass through her bat hut. Tinkerbell simply values her solitude.
Since deciding to call the bat hut her permanent home, Tinkerbell now serves as a welcoming committee to newly arriving orphaned bats. She allows the youngsters to roost and cuddle with her inside the bat hut, and in doing so eases their transition to hubbub of the flight cage.
In the wild, Tinkerbell’s solitary nature would deny her the protection of numbers and could put her in danger, but here at Bat World she has a place all her own. And if she wants company, there are over a hundred of her best friends no more than a wing flap away. We may not know why she lacks some of the social impulses that are so strong within other bats, but one thing’s for sure, her days of suffering and loss are over.
How do you describe a creature who defies all logic? One that melts your heart while it pesters you relentlessly? One that outsmarts you at every turn, while you enjoy the manipulation? We’ve racked our brains for an answer, and always come back to the same description, it’s “Peekaboo.”
Peek-a-Boo came to Bat World Sanctuary via her elderly mother, an Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) who was rescued from deplorable conditions in the fall of 2009. Her mother was housed in a tiny cage with two dozen of her own kind. All of the bats were rescued from a roadside zoo and brought to Bat World Sanctuary. Peekaboo’s mother was among those in the worst shape. The stress of the rescue caused the older mother to abandon one-month old Peek-a-Boo shortly after arriving. She was found hanging from a branch in our large flight cage one morning, alone, cold and crying for food. She was hand raised, along with Edward, a much smaller Carollia infant who had also lost his mother after being rescued.
The two mismatched orphans seemed to find comfort in each others’ companionship. By day they slept cuddled together in a fake lambs wool blanket. In every sense of the word, Peekaboo and Edward appeared to be normal, well-adjusted orphans, much like the others that we’d hand raised over the years. At around four months of age Peek-a-Boo was re introduced into the flight cage, and a few days later Edward followed. This was when all sense of normalcy inside the flight cage entirely disappeared.
For the first few days Peekaboo would leave the other bats and fly to us when we entered the cage, usually landing on our shoulder or back, something which took us by total surprise, but something she apparently felt was the most normal thing in the world for a bat to do. There she would stay, completely content to ride along, while I put the dishes filled with various fruits out for the night’s feeding.The other bats watched, eyes bulging in amazement at the bold new youngster who dared to use the human as a moving perch. She rode the top of our heads, my back, our shoulders, even our faces. It wasn’t long before Edward participated in the game by circling our heads closely as Peek-a-Boo perched on top like a furry crown. There she rode, head held high like royalty as the commoners circling below were reduced to mere flight.
After the dishes of fruit were put out, we had to extract Peekaboo from our bodies in order to leave the flight cage, something she squabbled loudly and incessantly over. The once five minute job of putting out nightly fruit turned into a ten minute ordeal of trying to contain two freshly-plucked tiny feet in the palm of one hand while extracting tiny thumb claws from my shirt with the other hand, only to have the feet pop from my grasp with lightning speed and reattach to a shirt at the precise moment the thumbs were un-plucked.
At first we feared that Peekaboo had imprinted, but as other volunteers entered the picture, it became crystal clear that imprinting had nothing at all to do with it. Peekaboo simply has more personality than one bat can contain. She apparently believes every human was created entirely for her personal enjoyment, to do with as she pleases. She is particularly fond of ponytails, buns, or anyone with longer hair. When she approaches her target, in her hummingbird pattern of flight, she aims for the part of the head that has the most hair mass.
If you are among those with little to no hair mass, then she will simply splat herself on top of your head. Once perched, she usually goes for an ear. All other noise is replaced with loud snuffles as she explores your ear canal with her nose, which happens to fit perfectly inside.
The conditions in which Peekaboo, her mother, and the other bats were rescued were some of the worst we have ever encountered. We are incredibly grateful that we were able to rescue her, along with her roostmates. With us, her personality will never be extinguished from lack of food, lack of cleanliness, over- crowded conditions, or the torment of public display. With us, her personality can flourish with plentiful food, toys, room to fly unencumbered, furry friends of all sizes, and of course, numerous heads on which to perch.
Imagine being a young, female fruit bat; one amongst scores of others. You are pregnant, and the zoo in which you live is closing. Time is running out, and you need to be disposed of. Humans arrive and start grabbing other bats –your friends, your family, and then they grab you and put you in a box. Humans have never been especially kind to you. You were always frightened when they brought in the pressure hoses to wash your cage, and you are even more frightened now.
You are in the box for a long time, you feel it vibrating and moving, and you hear the muffled voices of the humans from time to time. You have no idea what is happening, or if you will live or die, and you feel terrified. Suddenly, you find yourself being removed from the box and realize you are at a new location. There are vines, and flowers, and brightly colored toys, room to fly, and other bats as well. There are all sorts of places to hide, but you do not know if you can trust the humans so you try to hide. Everything bad that has ever happened to you has been because of humans. The food at your new home is fresh and tastes good, but the humans bring it, so you stop eating every time they come near. Then suddenly, your labor pains start. Your baby is coming. He is a very big baby, and you feel weak, confused and frightened. Your newborn baby falls away from you and onto the padded floor. You want to help him but you are too weak, and the humans may come back so you just continue to hide.
This is how Cornelius, a baby Jamaican fruit bat, entered the world. We understood the trauma his mother went through, she was not to blame for abandoning him. She had no way of knowing that her former life was far behind her, and that she was now safe and would be forever taken care of.
Thankfully, we are skilled at taking care of orphaned baby bats. Soon after Cornelius was found, he was quickly rushed to Bat World’s recovery area to be examined. We wrapped him in a warm gauze blanket and gave him the formula he needed to survive. He ate greedily. Besides being a large baby, he was strong and healthy from the start.
As the weeks turned into months, our dedicated Facebook fans followed his progress from his newborn days in his incubator, through his early days, when he was weaned on banana, to moving into the flight enclosure with all the other bats, including his mother.
Today, Cornelius is a healthy, well-adjusted bat who appears to be aware of how special he is. Because he has never been subjected to bright lights, the noise of crowds of human visitors on a daily basis and the scary-sounding blasts of pressure hoses, he actually seeks out the kindness of humans to give him a special a treat of honeydew melon. He even flies over to his caretakers to retrieve it
We hope that Cornelius can somehow convey to his mother that not all humans are bad, some humans only want what is best for them. Cornelius is an extremely happy, trusting little fellow, so we can’t help feeling that before too long, his happiness and trust in his caretakers will rub off on his sweet but timid mom.
We are forever grateful to our Facebook fans for helping Cornelius and supporting his care, including the incubator in which he was raised.
Binky is an African straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) born with a birth defect to his lower jaw.
When he was born, his lower jaw extended to the side and did not allow his mouth to close properly. Consequently, he had a difficult time eating. Binky was also a runt and had a hard time holding his own in the bat colony where he lived before coming to Bat World Sanctuary. The facility where he was born could not care for him and was looking for a home that could provide him with the love and attention he needed. As soon as we learned about Binky we immediately offered to take him.
To accommodate his birth defect, the fruit was cut smaller than for that of the average flying fox. Binky’s diet consists of grapes, pears, mangos, bananas, kiwis, figs, apples and other fruits.
When Binky arrived he was very, very shy. He peeked out from behind large ferns that hang from the cage ceiling, barely venturing out to explore the flight area. Despite his shyness, Binky almost immediately bonded with one of our larger, slightly overweight flying-foxes named Brutus. The pair became inseparable, even lazily sharing a hammock by day.
Binky eventually overcame his slyness and is happy, very social and energetic. His jaw straightened as he grew and his defect is now only occasionally noticeable. With his challenges now behind him, we hope to give Binky a very long and happy life.