A few weeks ago, Louise Saunders was kind enough to spend the afternoon with me to talk about bats. With my new story Spud & Charli, about bats and Hendra virus, due out in September, I wanted to make sure I had my facts right. Louise has been a bat carer for over 21 years, and was so impassioned by bats, that she founded Bat Conservation and Rescue Qld. http://bats.org.au
So, Louise, what happened 21 years ago that turned you from successful artist to bat carer?
I went on a Batty Bat Cruise around Indooroopilly Island and fell in love with the bats. When the organisers said they were looking for more bat carers, I offered to raise one. One soon turned into many…
But, aren’t you scared of catching a deadly disease – like Lyssavirus?
No. As carers, we are trained to handle bats properly, and we always take the right precautions. I have been bitten by an infected bat, but because I am vaccinated, I am still okay.
What message would you most like people to receive about bats?
Don’t be afraid of bats. We can live with bats in close proximity without getting sick as long as we don’t touch them. A bat found alone needs help. Report sick or injured bats, don’t touch them, and stay safe.
Louise’s passion and knowledge about bats is inspiring. Here are just some of the amazing batty tit bits she shared with me:
- One of people’s biggest complaint about bats are their smell. But this comes from their pheromones, not from their poo. The more you stir up a bat colony, the more they will release their pheromones, and the more they will smell. The same goes for noise. The more you stir bats up, the noisier they will become. So, leave bats alone.
- Bats are capable of pollinating up to 60,000 trees in one night, flying over 100km looking for food. The pollen from flowering Eucalypts and other native trees rubs off on their faces when they feed on the sweet nectar. This pollen is taken to the next tree they visit, spreading the genetics across many kilometres. So, bats are making forests while we sleep.
- If bats are annoying you, check out the trees growing in your backyard. Introduced trees like Cocos palms produce a lot of sugary fruit, attracting bats to feed in your yard instead of on the native trees. The palm fruit isn’t good for the bats, and the poo it creates is sticky and smelly. Removal of these trees might solve your problem.
- Bats not only spread pollen, but they also spread fruit. This is because of their raider/resident behaviour. The “resident” bat is the bat who “owns” the food tree, and will eat while hanging on the tree. The seeds drop close to the tree, which is not an ideal place for a new sapling. However, young “raider” bats flying through the area will duck in to the tree, steal a fruit, and fly away with it. This is an effective way to spread the seed of native trees kilometres away from the mother plant, where, if the conditions are right, they will germinate and grow into new trees.
- The roosting habitat of the bats is their home. Bat colonies are often formed in Melaleuca wetland areas where the micro climate is perfect to keep them healthy. However, if we remove these vulnerable wetlands (and we do), the bats look for other less suitable places to roost. These may be in parks or schools or your backyard. These roosts are unsuitable, for us and for the bats. They have no way of keeping cool in these new roosts, and can often die in their thousands when the temperature soars over 43 degrees. So the trick is to leave the natural roosts alone.
Here is what Louise had to say when she was interviewed by Sixty Minutes after their segment on Lyssavirus. http://www.batsrule.org.au/batsrule-helpsavewildlife/2014/3/9/extra-minutes-australian-rabies-interview-with-louise-saunders-bat-conservation-and-rescue
Bats are incredible animals, and according to Louise, probably the most important wildlife in Australia. After 34 million years of evolution, they have hardly changed, and the worst thing we can be is ignorant. Learn more about bats, and be amazed!
Here are some websites I found useful:
Batty Boat cruises, through Wildlife Queensland