South Lancs Bat Group have a network of nearly 30 bat carers who provide TLC to injured and grounded bats across the region. After volunteering on the batline last year (our helpline for injured or grounded bats, bat queries or requests for bat talks etc), I decided it was time to see the other end of the process and have started training as a bat carer.
Above, a fellow trainee practices bat handling with a noctule currently in long term care. This particular individual was having a mardy moment and in addition to shouting his head off, made a good attempt at biting me through my gloves ! It turned out he was just hungry and after being fed many mealworms, he calmed down and allowed us to hold him peacefully.
Handling healthy is important practice for bat care trainees as it allows us to learn how to inspect the wings and how to manipulate a bat in the hand so that we can see important identification features. Identification of injured and grounded bats is particularly crucial as we get a lot of pipistrelles in care which can be difficult to tell apart for the novice, but it’s important to know which is which as soprano and common pipistrelles need to be kept separately; they tend to avoid each other in the wild. We have also had Nathusius’ pipistrelles in through the batline which has led to some important records in new parts of the South Lancs Bat Group area.
Good handling technique also allows us to identify any major problems with a bat coming into care. Bats sometimes come in with no obvious injuries – they may be dehydrated and hungry, but just need a good feed and a rest before being taken home and released. Commonly, bats coming into care have encountered a cat and may have tears or holes in the wings or, worse, broken bones. Identifying these problems as soon as the bat comes into care helps us decide what to do next. Wing holes will usually heal well, given time, and in fact bats can fly quite successfully with small perforations in the wing membrane. Broken bones can be a problem, and we do have a policy of euthanising bats which we feel are unlikely to make a good recovery, as we would not want to prolong their suffering. It’s not pleasant, but we feel it is the right thing to do. These are wild animals, not pets, and our objective is always to release them back into the wild to continue their lives. We do have a few bats within the group which are in long term care, generally bats which seem healthy enough and are fully capable of grooming themselves etc but for whatever reason can’t (or won’t) fly properly.
Bats coming into care need water and food, and so to the humble mealworm we turn as the ideal, readily available live food source. All British bats are carnivorous and will not eat dead food – mealworms are convenient but there is a slight problem with giving a weary bat live mealworms – the mealies tend to walk all over the box and even climb onto the bat looking for somewhere to hide ! Not very handy. As a compromise, we remove the heads from the mealworms thus giving our bat a fresh dinner, but avoiding the annoying problem of mealworms crawling all over the kitchen (or whatever room the bat is being kept in).
The above picture shows a tray of mealworms and some of the gear needed by bat carers – little dishes and bottle caps to provide water, disposable tweezers, heat pad, ice cube bags for making up rehydration drink and, of course, paperwork.
We keep records of all the bats coming into our care, which contributes a lot to our knowledge of bats and bat roosts in the area, thus helping science and conservation as well as individual bats. I’m looking forward to getting involved 🙂