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The Michigan 90

The past three weeks have perhaps been among the most trying we have ever encountered.

It started with the rescue of 90 fruit bats from the Organization for Bat Conservation (OBC) after it suddenly closed due to allegations of sexual harassment against the former Director, who allegedly left the organization “profoundly insolvent”.  For two decades we had watched the sad conditions of the bats being “used” in countless programs across the U.S., so we jumped at the chance to offer these bats lifetime sanctuary.

Many of the bats were on loan from zoos and other institutions so those bats had to be returned to those facilities. The bats that remained, however, included 90 bats, some of which were old and infirmed and with other various issues that made them unappealing to zoos and like-minded facilities, where appearance matters. The bats we rescued included 50 short-tailed fruit bats, 10 Egyptian fruit bats, 12 African fruit bats, 15 Jamaican fruit bats, 2 Indian flying foxes and 1 Rodrigues fruit bat.

Taking on 90 additional mouths to feed is a daunting task but thanks to you—our wonderful supporters who helped us build a new, larger sanctuary—we have the room to accommodate these poor, unwanted souls. When the bats arrived we were both joyous and saddened at the same time. We were joyous to give these bats a new lease on life with all the enrichment they deserve, but sad to see how emotionally and physically neglected some of them appeared to be, and that many of the smaller bats were thin and balding.  Three of the elderly bats had nails that were so long they had to be physically cut out of the mesh crate in which they arrived.

In the midst of all of the happiness at having the bats safely with us,  we lost one of our own, David Naranjo, who was tragically killed in a car accident. David was our “shining star” and so looked forward to giving the 90 new arrivals the life they should have always had. The loss of David hit us all very hard and in the most profound way imaginable. David was born to be a part of Bat World and in that sense irreplaceable. We have a wonderfully dedicated Bat World family consisting of staff and volunteers who have pitched in to help until we can eventually get someone else trained.

David, with Peekaboo.

The “Michigan 90” are adjusting to their new lives. Some individuals are being rehabilitated, including “Coco” a critically endangered Rodrigues fruit bat who was born in 1997 and loaned to the former director of OBC, along with another of her same species. In 2012, it was determined that Coco was going blind so she and her roost mate were moved to a small cage. Her roost mate died at some point but Coco remained confined to the small cage alone because, under the instructions of the former OBC director (and with no reflection on the OBC staff or the Board), it was believed that Coco would “freak out” if she was with other bats. On the alleged instruction of the former director, her claws were purposely allowed to grow so they curled 270 degrees (3/4 of a circle) making it so she could barely move around.  Because of the severe, curled length of her toenails, Coco could not unlatch her toes from the cage ceiling to turn right-side up to relieve herself, so she unwillingly soiled herself (behavior we are working to correct).

Along with other allegations of abuse and neglect, we later learned from a former staff member that Coco was allegedly kept in a broom closet for two years before finally being transferred to a different cage.  The former staff member reported that she would leave the door of the closet open while she was there so Coco could receive fresh air:

Coco, at Bat World Sanctuary, exploring her new surroundings and making dozens of new friends.

Bats are exceptionally clean by nature but in order to maintain themselves they must be able to ambulate. We trimmed all of the bat’s toenails that were overgrown and are in the process of rehabilitating their behavior as well as their feet and nails. Three bats (including Coco) were so accustomed to not being able to move about once they were placed in a certain location, they just hung in the exact same spot for hours on end. We are now helping them to understand that they are able to move freely on their own within our expansive enclosure.  We do this by gently helping them move their feet and guiding them across the enclosure ceiling while supporting their backs with one hand (as seen in our Live Bat Cams video footage, below).

We were promised that none of the bats were pregnant, however, several of the smaller short-tailed fruit bats were indeed pregnant on arrival. These tiny future mothers were placed into an enriched flight area, segregated from the rest of the colony, to await the birth of their babies.  Two of the females gave birth to girls within days of arriving so they were allowed to rejoin their colony in the large flight area with their offspring.

Left, one of the short-tailed fruit bats from OBC’s “Save the Shorties” fundraising campaigns. Right, one of the 50 “shorties” we rescued from OBC with her newborn baby girl.

The other mothers who gave birth to boys will stay with their youngsters until the boys are old enough to neuter in approximately 3 months. They will then be allowed to rejoin their colony.  One mother abandoned her baby boy, likely due to the stress of the transfer, so we are hand-raising her baby until he is old enough to be neutered and rejoin his mom and the rest of the colony.

Most of the Michigan 90 have a lifespan of 25 years or more. In order to return to normalcy, some of these bats have months of rehabilitation ahead. Your donations help us to accomplish all that we do for these bats and more, but by taking in 90 extra bats we have essentially reached critical mass. We have the room and the staff-power to care for them, however, we need to ensure that we have the funds available for the lifetime care of these neglected and abused bats so they never have to suffer again. We can only do this with your support.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

We are trying to raise $250,000, a lofty goal and one that we expect will take some time, but also one that will ensure that these innocent bats will never suffer again. With Bat World Sanctuary, they will receive ample food, veterinary aid, and loving care from a staff dedicated to ensuring their every creature comfort.

You helped build the safe sanctuary they now call home; please help us give the once abused and neglected bats lifetime care.

An elderly African fruit bat, who had his lip torn off during a fight with another male, finds peace and freedom at Bat World Sanctuary. He is one of 12 African fruit bats rescued from OBC.

On behalf of the 90 beautiful souls who will now have lifetime peace and happiness, thank you for your support.

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