It took only mere minutes and I was in love, these perfect creatures were an incredible part of nature and it became clear to me how gravely misunderstood they are…
Early in November, I set out to Gainesville, Florida to attend a Fruit Bat husbandry course hosted by Lubee Bat Conservancy. The annual husbandry course sees visitors from all over the world who come together to work with and learn about these amazing and unique creatures.
About the Author: Samantha Sullivan
Sam is currently studying for a master in Biology with a wildlife conservation focus at the Miami University in partnership with San Diego Zoo Global. Sam’s interest is to work within communities to inspire coexistence with wildlife through education and awareness. She is passionate about conservation which we’ve witnessed first hand when we met her in 2015 in the context of a conservation volunteering project in Costa Rica.
The course is two full action-packed days that take you through many different areas of fruit bat husbandry. Most of the attendees are keepers from zoological associations who work with bats on a daily basis. Others, like myself, are animal enthusiasts, or conservationists who just want to understand these fantastic mammals better. The topics covered by the course include proper handling techniques, diet, enrichment, nail trimming, disease, habitat, exhibits, anesthesia, blood draws, tissue sample collection, training and more. Each day was full of hands-on experiences with the bats, which was absolutely magnificent. Being that I am not a zookeeper, the most interesting parts included any hands-on opportunities or observations. It was enthralling just to watch them move, interact, feed, sleep, communicate and more. A species that spends its life upside down is certainly a unique one, and who knew they had the amazing personalities to match their strange way of life?
Each one of them had their very own unique personality traits. Some were very social to both other bats and people, others were more apprehensive and scurried away when a person was to enter, and others demanded attention at every possible moment. I witnessed teamwork, curiosity, agility, and intelligence. It took only mere minutes and I was in love, these perfect creatures were an incredible part of nature and it became clear to me how gravely misunderstood they are.
In my conversations with locals both en-route and leaving the conservancy, I learned there were many uninformed people out there with negative perceptions around bats and their place in the ecosystem. Everyone I spoke to was shocked to learn that fruit bats are pollinators and vital to the survival of the planet. Others were just scared of bats in general and were surprised to hear that someone would be voluntarily wishing to work with them. Even more surprising was many locals had no idea they had bats living in the wild right here in Gainesville (500,000 at the University of Florida alone!) However, as I spoke with them, I was pleased to gauge a positive reaction to learning more about them and noticed that people were happy to have learned a little bit about these flying mammals and why they are to be celebrated, not feared.
What was my favorite part of the two days intensive? It was a toss-up between the bat handling, enrichment techniques, and the blood draws. As a former veterinary technician, it was quite satisfying to see that I still had some medical skills in my tool belt and was able to successfully draw blood on the first try! YES! Even more important than what I learned during the practical sessions were the moments I was able to just observe them and spend time with them. Bats are essential to the ecosystems in which they live. From pollination to insect control, they provide essential functions that keep our planet running smoothly.
The better we as humans can understand animals and how we all connect, the more we will fight for our planet and everyone and everything that calls it home.
A little more about bats… Bats are the second largest order of mammals (after the rodents), representing about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide, with about 1,240 bat species divided into two suborders: the less specialized and largely fruit-eating megabats, or flying foxes, and the highly specialized and echolocating. About 70% of bat species are insectivores. Most of the rest are frugivores or fruit eaters. A few species, such as the fish-eating bat, feed on animals other than insects, with the vampire bats feeding on blood.
Bats are present throughout most of the world, with the exception of extremely cold regions. They perform the vital ecological roles of pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds; many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds. Bats are economically important, as they consume insect pests, reducing the need for pesticides.
Lubee Bat Conservancy undertakes and supports fundamental research, conservation, and education programs both in the U.S. and in a varied number of regions found critical for their survival.
While their portfolio of projects is diverse, priority is given to projects that address one or more of seven priority conservation/education challenges: endangered species; bats and the bushmeat crisis; population monitoring and saving key sites; managing bat-human conflict in agriculture; ecology of bats; emerging infectious diseases; community education.
March 1st 2017 | by Samantha Sullivan
The photos used in this article are the property of the author, to the exception of the ones showcased in the Editorial note (which link directly to their hosting sites).
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