rogue

I need to talk about bats, the underrated puppies of the sky.

Quiet now.

I have something to say, and yes, it’s about bats.

I’ve lived my whole life thinking of bats as dirty, oily, leather-y vampires who are dumb AF and keep getting electrocuted on power lines. But over the last few weeks, I’ve had a profound realisation.

Bats are sky puppies and why did no one tell me. Not once.

In the words of writer Daniel Ortberg, who at the time was writing about possums (who some would argue are land bats), “YOUR [FEET] ARE FULL OF THOUGHTS AND INTENTIONS AND YOUR MOUTH IS FULL OF MURDER.”

That’s… that’s what I thought about bats.

In my mind, they were flying rats but more disturbing because WHY DON’T I KNOW WHAT YOUR WINGS ARE MADE OF.

bat

Then, I was doing my WIRES (Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service) training, and it was time for the bat module. Did I expect there to be a bat module? No.

But alas, it was bat time, and something struck me.

bat
You are
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bat
the weirdest thing
bat
I have ever seen. Image: Getty.

Why don't your feet have any place to... go. They're just sticking out like you're shocked by your own ability to fly.

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It's also genuinely unclear whether you have arms or just fur on your wings. Perhaps you have arms and no... hands? NO ONE KNOWS (a great number of people definitely know).

But more importantly: your face.

bat-flying
DARLING. Image: Getty.

Why didn't you say you had the face of a puppy. This changes everything.

But that's not all.

Baby bats (bat pups) are absurd. They look like dog puppies and their faces are always surprised. Let me explain.

bat-puppy
Image: Bats QLD.
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bat-pup
Image: Bats QLD.
pup-bat
Image: Bats QLD.
pup-bat
Image: Sara Ormond.
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pup-bat
Image: Bats QLD.

The very best thing about bat pups, however, is that when humans care for them, they're encouraged to bond with the pup as if they are their mother.

Speaking to Mamamia, Sara Ormond, who previously worked for Tolga Bat Hospital, said, "they are so cuddly and they will call out to you when they see you because they want to be with you".

A bat pup needs to feel a connection with the person caring for it in order to thrive in captivity, explained Sara, which is very rare for wild animals.

"At Tolga, we had to wear loose-fitting clothes so we could 'wear' the pups," she said. "They hook their little toes onto your clothes and crawl all over you and sometimes they just hang on with their feet and start flapping their wings like crazy! This isn't because they're trying to fly yet, it's to strengthen their muscles so they will be ready to fly one day.

"They also have to be fed using dummies. You use a syringe to squirt milk into the dummy and they suck it out through a little hole! We always swaddle them to do this because it makes them feel like they're wrapped up in their mum's wings and it comforts them."

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That's the cutest thing I've ever heard but... okay.

bat puppy
You're not a... baby. You're a bat. Image: Sara Ormond.

Ashley Fraser, the Vice President at Bats QLD says bat pups are "like toddlers".

"They want to be with you all the time and are curious about everything. It is a truly special experience to raise such loving cheeky little critters."

Once I started digging a little further into bats, I learned something: bat people are really, really passionate about bats. And it's super justified.

Flying-foxes, for example, are the only known pollinator of some plant species. They're key in pollinating eucalyptus, which in turn feeds koalas.

'I pollinate u'. Image: Getty.
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There are also over 300 species of fruit that are dependent on bat pollination - including mangoes, avocados and bananas.

The problem in Australia is that factors like urbanisation and climate change are making bats increasingly vulnerable. In September last year, Ashley Fraser spoke to the ABC about an unprecedented 'mass starvation' event caused by record-breaking heat, drought and bushfires.

"We're seeing dead bats all over public places and in the streets," she said.

This restricted access to food means that bats might try to feed in backyard fruit trees - where certain types of netting will trap and sometimes kill them. WIRES asks those who have tree netting to use the 'finger test,' and choose netting that you can't poke your finger through.

bat-netting
Bats kindly ask that you rethink your fruit netting because it's dangerous for them. Thank you. Image: Bats QLD.

It's sad for bats because their reputation gets tied to diseases like Australian Bat Lyssavirus which AREN'T THEIR FAULT. It's mandatory that anyone working with bats is vaccinated, and while the disease itself is rare (only 1 per cent of bats are infected), WIRES asks that anyone without the vaccination refrain from handling bats. Unfortunately, if you do, and you're scratched, the NSW Health Service insists that the bat be euthanised for testing.

Ashley Fraser says "the biggest misconception about bats is that they carry lots of diseases and are dirty animals," and both are "completely false". 

"If you don't approach and touch the bat, it won't approach or touch you. Bats are actually very clean animals and spend much of their time cleaning and grooming themselves."

If you do want to work with bats, you may be able to get your vaccination subsidised.

And WHY. WOULD. YOU. NOT. WANT. TO. WORK. WITH. BATS.

bat-pup
Sweetie we know. Image: Bats QLD.
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bat-bat
HI THERE. Image: Bats QLD.

I rest my case.

You can volunteer with WIRES through their website, and if you're interested in bats, you can find out more from the Australasian Bat Society, or the organisations below.

Bats QLD

Sydney Bats

Tolga Bat Hospital

Oceans 2 Earth Volunteers

Bat Rescue Inc.

Featured image via Sara Ormond/Getty.

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