During the summer months, hundreds of Brazilian free-tailed bat moms 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.
An orphaned animal is at the greatest disadvantage because it has lost his or her natural mother, and a mother’s milk is very special, just as the baby to whom it gives life. Bat World Sanctuary worked for over two years with a nutritional scientist to developed a milk formula recipe that replaces free-tailed bat mother’s milk.
Free-tailed orphans are not physically able to lap milk, their tiny faces are only designed to nurse. There is no nurser small enough to accommodate their tiny mouths, so we use foam tips made from eye-shadow applicators. The foam is removed from the wand and cut into a shape that the pup will accept. Warm milk formula is dispensed, a drop at a time, onto the tip as the pup nurses. Because free-tailed pups enjoy nursing in this fashion so much, it allows us to form “assembly lines” and feed several bat pups at once.
Free-tailed bats are highly intelligent, using over 25 vocalizations to communicate. The orphans are very smart at birth and quickly realize that they are being helped. They vocalize using soft chittering and squeaks to communicate while they snuggle and play with one another.
Aside from food, we provide the love and attention their mother’s would have showered on them. Unlike other animals, bats do not imprint so we can and do become their substitute mothers. We nurture them and raise them. We give them flight training and teach them to forage and when they are ready they are released back to the wild. If an orphan is born with an abnormality or a medical condition that prevents them from being released, we give them lifetime sanctuary, where they live in a simulated cave with others of their kind. The cave sits inside a large flight enclosure which enables bats with limited flight to enjoy themselves on a nightly basis.
We are able to provide all they need because we do not do it alone. Our supporters give us the means to save the orphans—their formula, their toys, bedding and the very incubators that are initially used keep them alive. We could not save these tiny, important lives without your support, thank you for allowing us to save them.