Pipistrelle pup (left) Leisler pup (right). Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

The Life of a Bat Carer

 

Three long-eared bats
Long-eared bats

There are only a few trained bat carers all over the UK, dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of bats. They do this voluntarily and give up a significant part of their day to rescue and care for bats all over the country and help to protect the public. New bat carers are trained by more experienced workers that are registered with the Bat Conservation Trust. It is also a requirement (once a person has decided to be a bat carer) to have all the relevant vaccinations such as the rabies vaccination. Bat carers are entitled to this for free in order to allow them to carry out their role.

 

Bat Care Training

Bat care is a specialist area that needs specialist training from an experienced bat rehabilitator, and needs to be carried out in line with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Bat Conservation Trust’s Bat Care Guidelines (2016 edition). It is against the law to keep bats as pets, and it is important, when caring for a bat, to know that the ultimate aim is to release the bat back into the wild.

The training covers the following:

  • To identify all species of bats with accuracy;
  • Assess the health status of the bat;
  • Make the correct care choice for the bat, considering relevant legislation and the law; and
  • Understand the need to make tough choices to prevent suffering. Including, sadly, euthanasia for badly injured bats.

 

What does a Bat Carer do?

Serotine bat
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Bat carers rescue, rehabilitate and release bats back into the wild. It is illegal under law for people to disturb bats. However, if one is in trouble, a member of the public can rescue it in order to hand it over to a bat carer. It is important that the public DO NOT handle the bat without gloves, because of the risk of rabies.

It is very important that no one handles a bat without protection to prevent being bitten or scratched. If the public find a bat in distress, only then is it allowed for the bat to be handled to rescue it.

So bat carers recommend using very thick gloves to pick the bat up (catch the bat like you would a spider) and place it in a secure lidded box (with small holes in the lid for ventilation) with a cloth and a small cap of water to drink from. Then phone the Bat Conservation Trust helpline, and they will put you in touch with a bat carer you can take the bat to (or they will come to collect it). Never handle a healthy wild bat for the sake of doing so. Only registered bat carers are legally allowed to keep bats in captivity, but only if they plan to return them back into the wild once the bat is considered fit for release. Sometimes a licence is required from the relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (e.g. Natural Resources Wales, or Natural England). if this is going to be over six months; e.g. overwintering, or if a bat has a long recovery time.

Once the bat is given to the bat carer, a wildlife form will be given to the member of the public (who found the bat) to fill out and sign. This gives the bat carer permission to take the bat from them. After which the bat carer will put their gloves on!

Rabies is not a major concern in the UK, but it is important to be cautious. There is a very small risk – 23 cases out of over 15,000 bats tested, but it is fatal if you were to contract the virus and not get treated in time. There has been one fatality in the UK where someone did not get inoculated after being bitten by a bat carrying the virus. Read our recent article on bats and rabies here.

 

Next Step for the Bat Carer: Assess the bat for injuries

The next step is to assess the bat for any injuries:

Check the bat’s body for injuries

Pipistrelle bat
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Check the bat’s wings for injuries

Checking wing for damage
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

When a bat is taken to the vet, they often do not check the bats wings for any injuries, either because they do not have a rabies vaccination or because they do not know how to handle bats. It is always important for the bat carer to check the wings of the bat as soon as they have received it.

 

Sex, age and species

Pipistrelle pup (left) Leisler pup (right). Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018
Pipistrelle pup (left) Leisler pup (right). Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Once the bat has been assessed for injures, it is important to sex the individual. If it is breeding season (June – August) and is a female bat, it could potentially be pregnant, requiring particular treatment, or have a pup hidden somewhere nearby to where it was found. There will be patches of fur missing around the female’s nipples if there is pup reliant on the bat. If the bat carer can find the roost and the pup, or release the adult back close to where they suspect the pup may be then the bat carer will, if they judge it appropriate to do so. If there is a pup there are a number of reasons why it is may not be reasonable to try and reunite it with its mother and should be hand-reared. Bat carers have certain methods they can use try to reunite the pup with the mother but be able to rescue the pup again if the mother does not appear. Some medications are unsuitable for growing bats including pups, either unborn or relying on lactation, and hand-reared pups (i.e. commonly used Baytril).

The age of the bat is also important: if the bat is a pup (mum cannot be found) it will need milk at least six times a day/night (depending on how young) and constant care and supervision.

Horseshoe BatThe species of the bat is also vital to identify: if the bat is a lesser or greater horseshoe. These species have very special requirements for housing and handling. They cannot crawl around like other bats, so the bat carer may have to take the bat to another bat carer with more experience. Horseshoe bats also have certain requirements, as they are such a sensitive species – not many horseshoe bats survive captivity.

Barbastelle bat
Barbastelle Bat. Reference: Stew Rowden, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

It is also important to know the species for feeding purposes: barbastelle bats have tiny weak mouths; they cannot eat mealworms as easily as other species of bats, so will need wax worms or tiny mealworms to be hand-fed to them.

Noctule and serotine species will also ‘strike’ when they are hand fed, it is important to be aware of this, as they can accidently bite the handler or become attached to the glove!

 

 

 

Rehydration and medication

Administering fluid to rescued bat
Pipistrelle being fed rehydration fluid. Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Once the bat has been assessed, it is given rehydration fluid using a syringe. The public are usually advised to put water in a container (with airholes) for the bat, but often the bat is too distressed to drink it. Feeding the bat when it comes in is also vital; sometimes an individual will be too weak to munch through a mealworm, so it is important that you kill the mealworm and feed the bat the guts so that the bat can get the nutrition it needs. This is not a very nice job, but is necessary when considering that the life of the bat could be in the balance.

If the bat is injured, Metacam and Baytril or Synulox/Clavamox will be given to it – the smallest amount possible, less than a drop. Both these medicines are used on cats and dogs and, as bats are mammals too, it works in exactly the same way. The medicines are used to combat pain from injures and reduce the swelling. This will be given to the individual bat twice a day until the injury starts to heal.

 

What do bats eat?

Moth
UK bats are insectivores; they do not eat fruit like their mega-bat relatives in other parts of the world. In the wild, the bats will feast on a variety of species such as gnats, moths, beetles and flies. In captivity, the bat carer will feed the bats mealworms, an easy and abundant lava of the insect species the mealworm beetle, that can be bought in most pet shops. Mealworms are not very nutritious as they are, so they have to be fed on a nutritious diet such as cat biscuits, bug grub and fresh food for moisture and supplements can also be added. This is so that the bat benefits from this as it eats the mealworms in turn.

 

Suitable container/house

Once the bat has been given medication, it will then be transferred into a clean plastic box with air holes for ventilation. The best example of this is a ventilated fish tank (see photo below). The box will have cloths, a milk lid with water in, and a bowl of mealworms inside of it and will be placed next to a reptile heat mat. The number of mealworms given to the bat will vary depending on the species. For a pipistrelle bat (the smallest of the 18 UK species) 10 mealworms will be sufficient amount; for bigger bats such as brown long-eared bats or noctules and serotines, they can easily munch through over 20 mealworms. The bigger the bat the more the mealworms!

Once the bat is healed, it will be moved into a flexi (also with cloths), with a reasonable amount of room for the bat to practice flying within.

Plastic ventilated box for a bat

Bat Care Box
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Flexi for a bat

Bat Care Flexi
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018


Most common injuries
 

About 50% of bats that come in to bat rehabilitation centres are bats that have been caught by cats.

The two most common injuries:

Wing Tear

Checking wing for damage
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Broken Bones

Broken Bone in Wing
Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018

Which one do you think the bat can survive from? 

This bat died from a cat attack (Reference: Sue Harlow, Cornwall Bat Care, 2018)
This bat died from a cat attack. Reference: Sue Harlow, Cornwall Bat Care, 2018

Bats have the fastest healing mammal membrane in the world so tears in the wings, with care and time, can heal easily and bats can still often fly with such injuries.

Broken bones are an injury bats will sadly get euthanised for having, as they are so tiny it is almost impossible to make a splint that would be effective. It would not be fair to keep the individual in pain just for the chance that the bone may heal.

However, sometimes bat carers can fix broken bones. The Bat World Sanctuary have developed a method for splinting a broken forearm, and have had some success.

I HAVE A CAT: Steps you can take to stop your cat catching bats!

Domestic catIf you have a cat that loves catching wildlife and has brought in bats before, then there is one easy thing you as an owner can do to prevent this:

Feed your cat inside at dusk and dawn; if you do this then you are keeping your cat inside during the time that bats are most vulnerable to being caught when they leave and return to their roost. If you can keep your cat in all night, then that’s even better!

 

Bats grounded with no obvious injuries

Pipistrelle bat. Reference Stew Rowden, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018.
Pipistrelle bat. Reference: Stew Rowden, Bristol Bat Rescue, 2018.

If there is a bat with no injuries, keeping them for a few days is vital as they may have internal injuries. They will be rehydrated, fed and test flown. It is better that they be in a comfortable environment rather than be released back in to the wild to then die in a matter of days due to injuries unseen by the carer.

Often grounded bats are juvenile bats still learning the ropes of being an adult bat without the help of mum. Most grounded bats will be monitored over a few days then released back where they were found.

 

Test Fly the bat

If there are no internal injuries, the next step is to test fly the bat. The Bat Conservation Guidelines suggest that a bat must fly for at least 8 minutes with no signs of fatigue before the bat carer can decide to release them back into the wild.

 

Age of the bat for release

If the bat is ready to go back to the wild, the age of the bat must be considered.

If it is an adult bat then it MUST go back to where you found it, or as near to the place as possible.

If the bat is a pup, it must be weaned off milk, (NOT cow’s milk – they are given goat or Royal Canin puppy/cat formula. You must NEVER give a wild animal cow’s milk, unless it’s a cow of course!

It will then be trained to fly within a suitable flight cage. It does not matter where the bat is released as long as the habitat is of superb quality and the individual is released with other bats of a similar age and species. Soft release is where they can return to the flight cage, where food and water is provided for them until they are ready to survive without human assistance.

If a pup can be reunited with its mother, then this is always better than hand-rearing; however, with the lack of bat carers and bat ambulance drivers, this does not always happen.

 

Release back into the wild

A last health assessment should be done the day before the chosen release day. The weather, temperature and the time of year must be considered. If it is raining and below 10 degrees then this is unsuitable conditions for release. Spring, summer and early autumn tend to be the best seasons to release bats. Some bat carers believe that if the bat is at a suitable weight and the temperature is mild, then bats can also be released during the winter.

It is also vital to give the bat a few mealworms guts (to provide energy and minimise weight, as a full bat may not feel like flying) and syringe feed the bat water before it is released back into the wild, to give the bat the best possible chance.

 

Video of a bat release – Bristol Bat Care, 2018:

WANT TO GET INVOLVED WITH BAT CARE?!

There is always a need for bat carers or bat ambulance drivers all across the UK, check out the links below!

How to get involved with bat care:

http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/batcare.html

https://www.bristolbatrescue.co.uk/

BCT Emergency Number. Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Care, 2018
BCT Emergency Number. Reference: Ashley Dale, Bristol Bat Care, 2018

If you liked reading this article, please read our other batty blogs:

Bat ID     Bat Survey Information
What to do if you find a bat     Is Bat Mitigation Successful?

Author: Ashley Dale
Photos and Video shared with permission from Bristol Bat Care