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The Houston Four

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 911Wildlife Logohumane 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.

The Houston Four, fully recovered.
The Houston Four, fully recovered.

 

Moving in Baby Steps

By Mitch Gilley

Well, it’s beginning.

Many of you have tracked the progress of the new facility via our Facebook updates, but now the preliminary stages of moving in are underway. We’ll be operating at our same address of 20 years for the time being; with the bats requiring constant care it’s not simply a matter of packing everything up and moving it from here to there. So, for the next month both our current facility and the new facility will need to be operational so that the only interruption to the bats’ routines is a short car ride when the final day of moving arrives.

Artist Sarah Kennedy creating a large forest mural directly outside the flight enclosures for the bats.

To that end, we’ve been putting special effort into the new flight enclosures and the new clinic, as these areas always will be the heart of Bat World. The interiors of the enclosures are being designed and laid out, cabinets and shelves have been assembled (by myself, with several do-overs) and a forest mural is being hand-painted around the flight enclosures by the very talented Sarah Kennedy, an artist and photographer who has volunteered at Bat World for several years. Sarah flew all the way from New York to do this for us. Those of you who’ve ordered our book Baby See-through will be familiar with her artwork.  We’re extremely grateful for her time and effort in helping us create such a scenic environment for our residents.

Bat World volunteers spent the 4th of July readying the new clinic, where thousands of future bats will be treated and released back to the wild.

Even my brother got in on the action, helping Amanda and me to move clinic supplies and furniture yesterday.  In fact, we got so focused on loading up a desk, boxes of formula, supplements, medical supplies, reference books, as much as we could that we forgot to leave any space for him in the back to ride in the back of the vehicle. We’d have unloaded some stuff to make room for him, but he insisted on sandwiching himself between boxes and making the trip. It was a small selfless act, and we appreciated it. You know how it is when you’re moving: the smallest thing can solicit the most profound gratitude.  This applies doubly so in the midst of a sweltering Texas summer. Thanks, Mark.

Volunteers spent the 4th of July hanging cabinets and setting up incubators for orphaned and injured bats, because alongside all this transition, nature keeps on being nature, and right now in nature bats’ activity is at its peak. In other words, it’s baby season. We’ve taken in 11 free tail pups this week, and just today I went to pick up 3 mother bats that had gotten lost and trapped in a building.  They were quite dehydrated and sluggish, but with injections of electrolytes for hydration and small feedings throughout the day they bounced back quickly. Thankfully, they were able to be released that very night and as predicted, they flew straight back to their roost, likely to find their very hungry babies as quickly as possible.

We can’t save every single bat in need – nobody can – but thanks to the support of our incredibly loyal base of donors, many, many baby bats are saved from prolonged suffering and given a second chance at life. Your donations have helped us put formula into a newborn orphan’s belly, provided pain medications and antibiotics for injured bats, and most importantly, you have helped us built a new facility so that we can continue saving even badly wounded babies and adults, giving them a chance to fly free once again. And to think, we have only just begun!

Stay tuned, there is more good news to come!

Orphaned free-tailed pups nursing milk formula from tiny foam tips. Click here to watch a video.
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Boo2

Boo2 showing off his sweet, goofy smile.

Boo2 is an Egyptian fruit bat who was born at Bat World Sanctuary after his mother and seven other bats were rescued by Bat World from the now closed Little River Zoo. They came from a horrible situation.

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 (looking at the camera) with Peekaboo.
Boo2 (looking at the camera) with Peekaboo.
Boo2 inserting himself in front of a morning keeper in order to get another melon treat. An empty fruit kabob is hanging beside Boo2.

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.


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Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell at intake, nursing from a foam tip

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.

Tinkerbell drinking her milk

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 at two months old

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.

Tinkerbell in her bat hut, eating a piece of honeydew melon

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.

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Cornelius

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.

Baby Cornelius, a Jamaican fruit bat orphan
Cornelius nursing formula from a foam tip.

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.

Cornelius' sweet face
Cornelius’ sweet face.

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.

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