Get Involved Spotlight: Austin Bat Refuge

May 1, 2018

From Austin Bat Refuge, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

Austin Bat Refuge, at its core, is two long-time volunteer wildlife workers dedicated to promoting respect for bats and their place in the environment through education, conflict resolution, rehabilitation and release. We have been rehabilitating bats and assisting the community for 10 years; becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in early 2016 has allowed us to fundraise to expand our education and rehabilitation capacities and to better assist local bats in trouble.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Our conflict resolution efforts include helping organizations, agencies and individuals with issues involving bats in buildings and other human structures, recommending actions that constitute a win-win outcome. We are a part of the Austin community, which includes both people and wildlife. We want to reinforce the notion that wildlife is a part of our neighborhoods, and to champion peaceful co-existence.

We understand that people sometimes have deeply-felt fear based on a lack of information and an array of stories passed down through generations. We don’t blame people for their fears, but we are relentless in our use of facts to counter those fears! We also are cognizant of the fact that people can, under certain circumstances, be harmed by wildlife, and are as passionate about protecting humans as we are about saving bats.

EDUCATION

Since our work serves bats and the community in which they live, education in Austin and surrounding communities is an essential element of our mission. In Austin, self-proclaimed Bat Capital of the World, bats are revered as a symbol of our uniqueness and as an important stream of tourism revenue. Yet even here, an enormous amount of misinformation, fear and ignorance exists around the subject of bats. A lot of what many people think they know about bats is false, and when people experience a sudden encounter with a bat, which can happen when one accidentally gets into a home or office, those scary stories are the very first things that come into their minds.

One of the major goals of our education programs, for children and adults, is to counter negative myths and misinformation with facts about real and perceived risks of co-existing with bats in our communities, leaving people with a sense of awe and respect for bats, while letting go of needless fear.

Bringing live bats to our programs often gives us the privilege of observing a sudden change of heart in a person looking at a bat close-up for the first time. Small and vulnerable in a gloved hand, this little bat is very different from the frightening creature of human imagination. The experience can also create an intrinsic understanding of why successful conservation of wildlife relies on the good will of humans.

Bats ARE mysterious; they fly at night so are rarely seen up close, if they are seen at all; they are cloaked in both darkness and mythology, not to mention common beliefs like “Bats are blind” – (not true); “All or most bats have rabies” – (they don’t); and “Bats get in your hair” – (they won’t). If you believe that bats are blind, though, it probably makes sense to think they might simply crash into your hair!

CONGRESS AVENUE BRIDGE OUTREACH

Austin Bat Refuge is the only group doing regularly-scheduled education at Congress Avenue Bridge during the bat-watching season, which is usually mid-March through October. We welcome your questions at our booth every Friday and Saturday night!

REHABILITATION

Our rehabilitation of bats in a flight cage which is also an organic garden, highlights bats’ beauty and their place in the natural world. Every bat brought to us is an educational opportunity leveraged by our social media efforts to reach thousands of people.

We are unique in Central Texas as the only wildlife rehabilitators caring exclusively for orphaned and injured bats, and the only facility in our area with an outdoor flight cage to prepare orphaned and injured bats for release.

We are sometimes asked, “What difference does it make, saving a few bats?” We answer, “It makes an enormous difference to those bats!”

Attempting to rescue a bat can seem frightening for people who encounter them, displaced or injured, around their homes or workplaces; many consider them vermin—dirty, disease-ridden and unworthy of care. We strive both to make certain that people who agree to capture an injured or displaced bat know how to do it safely—for themselves AND the bat—and to show how rewarding it can be to make the effort to help their fellow mammals, thus widening the circle of compassion in the world.

We have cared for over 1,000 bats since 2008, with an 80% survival rate--approximately 50% of surviving bats are released back into the wild. We now care for over 200 bats per year by raising orphans, doctoring the injured, always with the goal of releasing them back to the wild.

This is year-round work in our temperate climate, and bats are frequently brought to us several times a week year-round. Bat care is more lifestyle than work, since round-the-clock care is necessary during pup (baby bat) season, and long evening hours are required the rest of the year. Observation of the bats’ behavior yields a treasure trove of material for social media and we love to share the passion engendered by getting to know these unique and fascinating creatures.

PARTNERSHIPS

We network with many conservationists, scientists and rehabilitators in the U.S. and other countries, sharing information and knowledge. While science-based conservation organizations work to conserve bats on a broader, species- and habitat-based scale, we work locally, one bat at a time.

Collaboration among organizations and individuals with different-focused missions has never been more important than in these especially dangerous times for North American bats. White-nose Syndrome has killed millions of bats in the U.S. and Canada, and the fungus that causes this dreadful bat disease was found in caves in the Texas Panhandle last year. More recently, the fungus has appeared in Central Texas caves, and even been found on one Mexican free-tailed bat.

We hope to raise funds for an additional small structure for easier quarantine of WNS-suspect bats, and a modest laboratory in that structure that will be WNS-protocol-ready, since this devastating bat-killing fungus will eventually cause disease in bats that are commonly brought to Austin Bat Refuge. This lab will provide a place for veterinarians, pre-vet students, and budding bat scientists to collaborate and share knowledge.

VOLUNTEERING

In addition to serving the hundreds of bats brought to us for care, Austin Bat Refuge serves local college students by giving them real-world experience to fuel their scientific studies. A limited number of unpaid internships are available for students pursuing wildlife-related studies.

Our volunteers are not only students, but working or retired adults who are passionate about helping wildlife and enjoy working side by side with others of like mind.

To us, each bat that survives and is released is a success; and each bat that is saved from a painful death to live out its life in our refuge is also a win. If our volunteers and interns become a cohesive group that gives of their time to show compassion to other living beings, whether they continue with Austin Bat Refuge or not, we will consider our mentoring a great success as well.

Austin Bat Refuge is looking for a few dedicated volunteers who can come at least two times a week and become part of the Austin Bat Refuge family. We have needs in the following areas:

Bat Care

·      Pre-exposure vaccination series is required

·      Preference given to those with veterinary or small mammal rehabilitation backgrounds, but anyone with time to spend and an interest in working with bats is encouraged—the need for volunteers with lots of time to share is greatest during baby bat season, starting as early as mid-May

Veterinary Assistance

·      Though we have a wonderful veterinarian who gives generously of his time and expertise, he is popular and has an extremely busy practice to run; it would be helpful to him and to us if other veterinarians or veterinary technicians would be willing to assist us on an occasional basis!

Horticulture

·      Our flight cage is also an organic garden filled with moth-attracting plants, so both amateur and professional horticulturists are welcome

Transporters

·      Some people are unable to bring a rescued bat to the Refuge, so an important volunteer position is driving to areas within and outside of Austin to pick up already-contained bats

Facility Maintenance and Improvements

·      Cleaning, organizing, repairing

Fundraising Event Planners

Social Media Experts

·      Help us maximize our social media presence

Creative Types

·      Artists

·      Sewing enthusiasts

·      What are your ideas for helping us help Austin’s bats?

Please see https://austinbatrefuge.org/volunteer-opportunities/ for instructions on applying for our volunteer program.

For information, photos, videos and blogs, please see www.austinbatrefuge.org.