Thursday, 27 April 2017

Running for Bats by Joanne Melling

For as long as I can remember I have loved all animals, particularly wildlife. As I child my greatest dream was to be a vet and save animals. 

Sadly, my lack of understanding of Physics and Maths and failing to make the grade in these subjects destroyed my dream of veterinary surgery glory and I had to rethink my path.
Years passed and I finally found myself in Canada, more precisely at the Toronto Wildlife Centre exploring another path to saving animals. One I previously hadn’t even considered. I had started my career as a wildlife rehabilitator.
So why bats?

Bats have always fascinated me. They are remarkable creatures, amazingly long lived for such small animals, they eat bugs, they pollinate flowers and are essential for the survival of our planet yet they are feared and misunderstood wherever they go.

During my time in Toronto I spent a large amount of time with the bats in care, as one of the rabies vaccinated interns I had many hours weighing, measuring, feeding and cleaning the (primarily) big brown bats. I often volunteered to look after the bats, they were calm, placid little beings and working with them was a moment of zen in the madness of a busy inner city wildlife rehab centre. 
Then it happened, that one special patient who will always stay with me wherever my career takes me. A female big brown bat was brought in by a member of the public who had found her in a pool of what we assumed to be diesel in an underground car park. We named our bats alphabetically, we were on the letter E and this bat came in on Easter Sunday. She of course, was named Easter.
Easter was in ICU in the clinic for 2 weeks and showed no sign of improvement. She was emaciated, dehydrated, not eating properly and the vet recommended euthanasia if she didn’t improve. As a last ditch effort I offered to take her home and foster her on the off chance that one on one care would make a difference with her. 

Easter lived with me for 3 months, during that time we went through a roller coaster of improving and failing health. We had various issues with her weight, appetite, flying skills etc. etc. She was a sweet tempered, bright little bat and during the time she was with me she made me cry, she made me frustrated, she made me laugh, she made me cry some more. As we got to spring and the time that the bats in the centre were being flight tested for release Easters health plummeted and I had to make an incredibly difficult decision and recommended she be put to sleep. 

Though Easter didn’t make it her legacy is my love for bats, she ignited a passion for these remarkable little creatures in me and made me truly appreciate them for what they are. The beautiful, graceful guardians of the night sky and an essential part of our ecosystem.

Recently I traveled to Australia to work with mega bats. Primarily grey headed and black flying foxes. While I was there I acquired another foster patient who highlighted just how complex bats can be. 

He was a grey headed flying fox called Rastas. Flying foxes have a much stronger maternal bond than microbats, they need closeness and security. Taking on an orphaned flying fox means you have to be it’s mummy, you need to hold it and make it feel secure. They are wrapped in blankets and cuddled, often chewing the blanket for security and comfort. Many orphaned flying foxes are found still clinging to dead mothers and so have mental trauma when they come into care. 
Rastas, the grey-head flying fox I fostered

I never found out Rastas’ full story but I assume he had some trauma in his life. He was my first experience of a bat showing the symptoms of PTSD. He would often fall asleep and wake up minutes later screaming and looking around him wildly and disorientated. 

He eventually calmed and was able to go into a creche aviary with the other young bats. 
Bats are complex. They have personalities and strong social bonds. They feel pain and trauma and sadness just the same as us and we should do all we can to protect them. 

I am now a registered bat carer with the BCT and west Yorkshire bat group and plan to do all I can to help our British bats now I am back in the UK.

This September I will be taking part in the Great North Run to raise money for the BCT. 
It will be my first attempt at a half marathon and it’s already proving to be a pretty big challenge. Training is underway and going well so far, fingers crossed J

Here is a link to my just giving fundraising page;

Please give if you can, any donation big or small is welcome and will help me raise some much needed money for our wonderful bats.
Thank you

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