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

Life of a Bat Carer – Part 1: Training and Rescue

Three long-eared bats
Long-eared bats (Acer Ecology)

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 the 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 finds 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 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 bat’s 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 injuries, it is important to sex the individual. If it is the 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. Baytril is commonly used).

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. For example, barbastelle bats have tiny weak mouths and therefore 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 accidentally 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 is usually advised to put water in a container (which has air holes) for the bat, but often the bat is too distressed to drink it. Feeding the bat when it comes into care 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 injuries 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, which 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 which has air holes for ventilation. The best example of this is a ventilated fish tank (see photo below). The box will have a cloth, 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

To find out what happens next, read Part 2 of this series.

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