Go­ing batty

World’s only fly­ing mam­mals fi­nally get some at­ten­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By PAT PAPE

DOT­TIE Hy­att has 36 bats liv­ing in her Keller, Texas, home, but she’s not call­ing an ex­ter­mi­na­tor. Hy­att is the onewoman bat res­cue team of Bat World Lone Star, one of 20 satel­lite res­cue cen­tres around the United States as­so­ci­ated with the Bat World Sanc­tu­ary in Min­eral Wells, Texas.

When an in­jured bat is dis­cov­ered in North Texas, Hy­att’s home is of­ten where it ends up. There, it is re­hy­drated; med­i­cated; nur­tured; given a name such as Al­fie, Wil­bur, Jo­lene or Cal; and hope­fully, re­turned to the great out­doors. If the bat can’t live on its own, it be­comes a per­ma­nent res­i­dent of Bat World Sanc­tu­ary.

A for­mer Florid­ian and IT project man­ager, Hy­att has been ac­tive in wildlife res­cue most of her life, help­ing re­ha­bil­i­tate ev­ery­thing from bun­nies to man­a­tees. About 12 years ago at a work­shop con­ducted by the In­ter­na­tional Wildlife Rehabilitation Coun­cil, she heard a lec­ture on bats. “I learned that bats are clean, in­tel­li­gent, af­fec­tion­ate and en­dan­gered,” said Hy­att. “My re­sponse was ‘ What?’ I was raised with all the same mis­con­cep­tions as ev­ery­one else.”

A few months later, her cat de­liv­ered an in­jured bat to her house, and that was the start of an in­tense com­mit­ment to the noc­tur­nal fliers.

Bats are the sub­ject of much mis­in­for­ma­tion. Thanks to Hollywood, bats have been the vil­lains of scary movies, swoop­ing in to at­tack vic­tims or get tangled in their hair. Some peo­ple think bats are a type of ro­dent or bird. Oth­ers be­lieve they are blind and carry a host of dis­eases, in­clud­ing the deadly ra­bies virus. All of these per­cep­tions are false.

“Less than one-half of 1% of bats con­tract ra­bies,” said Hy­att. “They’re mam­mals just like us, and all mam­mals can con­tract ra­bies.”

In truth, bats are key play­ers in a healthy en­vi­ron­ment, she said. They pol­li­nate many plants, in­clud­ing man­goes, ba­nanas and guavas. If you love mar­gar­i­tas, you should love bats be­cause they pol­li­nate 98% of all agave plants, the source of te­quila. Their im­mense ap­petite for fly­ing bugs helps con­trol crop de­stroy­ers, such as the corn-borer moth, which de­fies its name by nosh­ing on ev­ery­thing from corn and egg­plants to ap­ples and pota­toes. An­other bat del­i­cacy is the mos­quito, which can carry West Nile virus.

“The av­er­age bat gob­bles 3,000 to 5,000 in­sects ev­ery night,” said Hy­att. “A lac­tat­ing fe­male eats 10,000 to 12,000 nightly. Bats save us bil­lions, not mil­lions, of dol­lars in crops each year.”

De­spite the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity they’ve re­ceived, bats are cute, Hy­att added. They purr when they’re happy and have al­most no odour. They com­mu­ni­cate when they are hun­gry or want at­ten­tion, us­ing squeaks and clicks in var­i­ous tones to ex­press their needs and opin­ions. “Next to man, bats have the most com­pli­cated lan­guage there is,” she said.

Bats see well in the dark and have a unique echo-lo­cat­ing sys­tem that al­lows them to emit high-fre­quency sound waves and then mea­sure the echo that bounces back. This skill gives them a de­tailed mental pic­ture of ob­jects in their path and serves them well on dark nights.

There are 34 bat species in Texas, but the most com­mon in this area are the evening bat, red bat, hoary bat, pip­pistrelle and the Mex­i­can free-tail, which is the of­fi­cial state bat of Texas and the type that lives un­der the fa­mous Congress Av­enue bridge in down­town Austin.

Killer dis­ease

Four years ago in a cave west of Al­bany, New York, an ex­plorer pho­tographed hi­ber­nat­ing bats with an un­usual white sub­stance on their faces. He also no­ticed sev­eral dead bats in the area. Within a year, the New York state’s Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion be­came aware of hun­dreds of dead bats, and in 2007, bi­ol­o­gists an­nounced that white-nose syn­drome, a deadly Euro­pean dis­ease, had crossed the At­lantic. So far, mil­lions of bats in the North­east have died, and white-nose syn­drome has been re­ported as far west as Ok­la­homa.

State and fed­eral bi­ol­o­gists are baf­fled. They know the highly con­ta­gious dis­ease causes a fun­gus that eats away at the bat’s wing tis­sue, pre­vent­ing it from fly­ing and caus­ing it to die of star­va­tion.

But they don’t know how to stop it.

Be­cause the dis­ease can be car­ried on an ex­plorer’s cloth­ing from one cave to the next, the US For­est Ser­vice has is­sued an emer­gency or­der clos­ing caves and aban­doned mines in na­tional forests and grass­lands in sev­eral states. How­ever, own­ers of pri­vately owned, pay-to-visit caves are not re­quired to fol­low suit and few are do­ing so vol­un­tar­ily, Hy­att said.

This is a se­ri­ous prob­lem be­cause “bats are the most en­dan­gered land mam­mal in North Amer­ica,” said Hy­att. “They’re also the slow­est re­pro­duc­ing mam­mal on the face of the Earth for their size.” Most fe­male bats have only one pup a year (a few of the world’s 1,100 bat species have mul­ti­ple births), with ges­ta­tion rang­ing from 90 days to nine months.

“A baby bat is one-third the size of its mom at birth,” she said. “It is full grown in eight weeks but still nurs­ing, so the mom must for­age for food to feed her­self and her baby. A lot of first-time moms don’t make it. They die try­ing to keep their baby fed.”

Even if the bat mother sur­vives, her pup has a 50% chance of grow­ing into an adult, thanks to pes­ti­cides and preda­tors, in­clud­ing hu­mans and birds, such as blue jays, hawks, crows and grack­les. In fact, bird in­juries and pes­ti­cide poi­son­ing are the two ma­jor rea­sons that bats end up in rehabilitation.

Dur­ing the an­nual bat birthing sea­son from spring un­til early fall, Bat World Lone Star re­ceives scores of calls about dis­tressed baby bats that have lost their moth­ers. Hy­att re­ha­bil­i­tates 70 to 100 or­phans ev­ery sum­mer. While adult bats in re­hab eat twice a day, ba­bies must be fed ev­ery four hours with a sy­ringe fea­tur­ing a spe­cial feed­ing tip. “An or­phaned pup with no in­juries is a three-to -four-month com­mit­ment,” Hy­att said.

Be­cause bat res­cuers can’t cap­ture 5,000 in­spects for each bat ev­ery day, “we buy meal worms that have been fed on fruit and sprin­kled with a spe­cial vi­ta­min mix­ture,” she said.

Bats have a metabolism that any di­eter would envy. The bat’s heart beats 900 to 1,300 times per minute when they are not hi­ber­nat­ing, which means they process a meal in about 20 min­utes and can be de­bil­i­tated by dis­ease in a few hours. When some­one finds a sick bat, they need to con­sider the sit­u­a­tion an emer­gency.

“We have to get them sooner,” she said, speak­ing for all Bat World satel­lite cen­tres. “If some­one turns a bat in to us two or three days af­ter find­ing it, that bat is not go­ing to sur­vive.”

Of the United States’ 5,000 cer­ti­fied wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tors, only 200 are bat spe­cial­ists. Hy­att un­der­writes all ex­penses for her own satel­lite cen­tre and passes on do­na­tions that she re­ceives to Bat World Sanc­tu­ary, which is ac­tu­ally two fa­cil­i­ties in one. The first is a 111year-old sand­stone build­ing in down­town Min­eral Wells that bats adopted years ago and which Amanda Lol­lar, Bat World Sanc­tu­ary founder, pur­chased in or­der to pro­tect them. To­day, thou­sands of bats come and go freely from the build­ing each evening. The sec­ond is a rehabilitation fa­cil­ity for bats on the mend and those that can no longer sur­vive on their own.

To raise funds, Hy­att of­ten lec­tures at schools and club meet­ings for a fee. Wear­ing dan­gling bat ear­rings, she launches into an en­thu­si­as­tic pre­sen­ta­tion that in­cludes live ap­pear­ances by Jo­lene, Cal or Wil­ber. Fre­quently, these lec­tures re­in­force Hy­att’s com­mit­ment to her work.

“Ev­ery now and then a child will come up to me af­ter a pre­sen­ta­tion and say ‘Bat Lady, when I grow up I want to be like you’,” she said. “If I can make a dif­fer­ence in a child’s life, they will grow up and help pre­serve the species and re­spect bats in­stead of fear them. They’ll go on and con­tinue the work.”– Fort Worth Star-Tele­gram/McClatchyTri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Bat-lover: Dot­tie Hy­att holds a Pal­lid bat. She is the one-woman bat res­cue team of Bat World Lone Star, one of 20 satel­lite bat res­cue cen­tres across the United States.

A Pal­lid bat. Bats are cru­cial for a healthy en­vi­ron­ment. They pol­li­nate many plants, in­clud­ing the mango, ba­nana, guava and the much-loved durian.

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