I spent November of 2011 on Frégate Island working with turtle conservation and being immersed in an environment where I was a member of the smallest population on the island. Literally more giant millipedes, more Seychelles Magpie Robins (endangered, endemic to the region) and more bats than people. Also, the only mammals on the island are bats and the humans. The bats, or Flying Foxes, are known as megabats because of their scientific classification. They are fruit bats and do not use echolocation to navigate but rather their keen sense of smell and having large eyes means their eyesight is sharper. They are magnificent, watching them in flight is arresting with their seemingly effortless mobility. Seeing the bats everyday in all their diurnal and mega glory made me realise I was going to miss them when I returned and it was only two weeks later that I’d have my first close encounter.
While away for work in Malmesbury, we spotted a squirming ball of dust or dried leaf or beetle that had seemingly fallen from the very high ceiling, this tiny, tiny thing that was not there a minute before. Kneeling down to get a better look (which took a while to figure out what it could possibly have been) the first thing I noticed was that it was moving similarly to a newborn baby human, kicking its legs and scrunching fists and crying, mouth open, head back. Recognising that it was a bat only came afterwards and I scooped it up and cupped my hands over it to provide some kind of warmth and protection. This past December gave us some proper winter weather though and cold hands weren’t doing much so inside my bra it went where immediately it hung upside down and nestled up against my skin. Tiny, tiiiny it was, so tiny, so little. I assume it to be Neoromicia capensis, Cape Serotine Bat, these bats generally are birthed late November so this little one was just a few weeks old, if that.
I called a nature conservationist friend who suggested the options one has when finding a distressed baby bat (a pup). Baby bats, like every animal, have controlled feeding and having such small stomachs and bladders it is important to not over-feed. Mother bat will also stimulate her offspring into releasing urine and faeces before feeding by licking or nuzzling their lower bellies.
Generally rescue baby bats are weaned on goat’s milk (warmed a little) every hour for 12 hours. Being mammals, they need to be kept warm and a method of achieving this is by putting some raw rice in a cotton sock or bag or material and warming it up in the microwave. Flaxseed may also be used if you have it longer as it is smoother and thus makes a softer cushioning and it also stays warmer for longer.
I did not have access to any of these and understanding the nature of things and the necessity to not ‘interfere’ with every situation when I’m out of urban areas, I simply put baba up in the afdakkie wrapped in cotton (which I had) and sent many telepathic messages to mamma bat to hear and fetch baba bat.
Incidentally, 2011 – 2012 has been declared the Year of the Bat by the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS), which basically aims to promote “bat conservation and celebration around the globe”, as stated on Bat Conservation International‘s website.
This all came about because of the alarming rate at which bat species have dwindled in recent years and has garnered much support in research and awareness. Bat’s seem to have a bad reputation throughout history, in folklore and legend, and there are numerous myths surrounding bats that are generally unwarranted.
For example, bats carrying rabies is one of these myths. This is not true in the sense that if a bat contracts rabies it will eventually die of it, much like humans do, they do not carry rabies unaffected. It is not a good idea to handle a bat if it is grounded in any case as bats, like most animals, are sensitive to humans and may react in self-defence if provoked. Bats play a vital role in our ecological and economic spheres and the threat to them is ultimately a threat to humans.
[All photo's courtesy of Sam Carter]