The bat rehabilitation season is entering full swing now, with babies coming in regularly. Some are still attached to exhausted mothers, grounded by lack of strength or predators, and some are on their own, accidentally dropped or left behind in a mad scramble to escape a blue jay or even a storm. I’ve got some sanctuary bats with me, to lighten the load of one of the main rehabbers, so she can concentrate on the babies coming in. It’s incredibly difficult for me to feed something so fragile 4-6 times a day while working at the shelter, and the emotional toll it takes on me when I can’t stick to the schedule has proven to be quite damaging. So I’ll focus on feeding the permanent residents and Kate can concentrate on saving the babies. It all works out.
One of the boys I have, Leopold, came in last year and spent the winter with me. When spring rolled around, I took him to the Sanctuary for a check up, and it turns out he has a dislocated wrist, and although he can use his thumb to climb, he is not the best of fliers and has yet to prove himself releasable. He has also recently learned to feed himself, voraciously I’m assuming, because whenever we try to hand feed him he clamps his mouth shut tighter than a 4 year old facing off with a spoonful of lima beans. (I love lima beans by the way, in case anyone wants to bring me some). I’ve flown him a few times outside in the flight cage (Walter and Bonnie are the most amazing friends, and not only did they build me a catio, but screened it tight so at night I can fly the bats for pre-release), and he can’t get much altitude yet but still flutters from one end to the other, improving a little each time. He tells me when he is tired, and I return him to his hut.
Madeleine is a young female that was actually born in sanctuary, and she is flying quite well. She banked her first turn today, and is getting better at gaining altitude when she traverses the cage. She is eager to fly, and spreads her wings almost instantly when I open my hand, but still tires quickly. So we will continue our daily stretch and work towards the goal of opening the door and letting her swoop out. Her mother however, well she is a different story.
Millie came into rehab As many do, emaciated and dehydrated when she was suppose to be fat and happy in torpor. Once she started eating again, it was soon discovered that she was pregnant; anyone that’s pregnant gets free room and board until the baby comes, so she settled in well. She is here with me as well, and since everyone gets to go outside for flight school, I researched with Kate what her story was, and if there was anything that rendered her non-releasable. To the best of our knowledge, physically she checks out clean. So I figured it was time to give her a boost.
Millie flew twice, once away from me, and once back to me, and that was it. I am well aware that even after 4 years I am still very new to this. I have probably only flown and released three or four dozen bats. Today was the first time I have ever experienced a bat that was truly afraid to fly. Once she was back secure in my hand, not only did she refuse to leave, but she actively tried to hide. Scampering over my hand around my wrist, desperately trying to hide between my fingers. I moved the soft red fleece I keep draped across my arm when I fly the bats closer to her, and she ran for it and buried herself inside. This poor girl, for whatever reason, was absolutely terrified of leaving the security of what she had come to know. I’ve never seen this before, even bats that have been in rehab for months and months have had no problem leaving once they were physically able. Millie has been with us for less than 4 months. God created these beautiful beings to fly, eat insects, and make babies. And for Miss Millie, two out of three will have to do, for now.
We will never know what happened to Millie that caused her to lose all her winter weight an nearly starve to death. We will also never know what has triggered such a dramatic response to being offered a chance at freedom. Not long ago, a woman down in Houston came across a small colony of mexican free tailed bats that had chosen to roost on her front porch, and decided to take a broom to as many as she could find. Less than a handful made it to our sanctuary, and the physical injuries each one endured paled in comparison to the psychological damage that ensued. They watched their family get beaten to death around them. They barely dragged themselves away and hid from this large angry creature, each sustaining multiple blows to the head and body in the process. After all was said and done, even if those kids had both wings, they would still probably never fly again. They each needed to be soothed and handled in a very specific way even to eat. PTSD is as real in animals as it is in people. And I feel like with Millie i’ve witnessed it first hand. Whatever happened to her the last time she flew was so dramatic and devastating that she refuses to even entertain the opportunity to do it again. I’m sure I wouldn’t blame her if I knew, and I don’t need to know. I cuddled her and sang to her for a little bit while she cuddled and purred into my hand, (yes, bats purr) and coaxed her back into her pouch so she could be with her friends.
Never again my dear, you’re safe now, always.
Thank you so much for taking such good care of these beautiful bats! I’ve seen several over the years just like Millie – they had a bad experience while flying, or suffered a head injury (which we can’t see), and as a result they simply refuse to try flying again. Thankfully, we can provide them with safety, security, companionship, and the best possible care for as long as they need it.
I do want to point out that we are licensed, vaccinated for rabies, and trained on the captive care of our native bats, so we often handle bare-handed as it improves our ability to really tell how the bats are doing. The public should never attempt to handle a bat bare-handed, and should contact a bat rehabilitator immediately if they find a bat on the ground,