Wednesday 22 November 2017

Papping Bats on Social Media by Liz Vinson

Do you remember the days of taking your precious roll of film to be developed? Did you spend the extra £££ for an hour’s developing or were you able to wait the three days to see what you had captured?

Oh! gone are those days; I remember the thrill of opening the paper wallet in the shop, like Charlie Bucket carefully unwrapping the Wonka Bar – how many photos would be in focus? How many would have been graffitied by the developer with a sticker saying it was over exposed or suchlike? And had you got away with accidentally opening the back of the camera before the film had rewound?

Then there would be the hours spent first showing all your friends and family the photos (“don’t put your fingers on the image, Grandpa, please”) followed by carefully placing your treasured images into an album, editing the best and writing a caption, “If only I had remembered to put the flash on” or “in the distance you can see…”

I remember the first time I saw a digital camera being used, I thought I would never use one because it would spoil the excitement of waiting to see what you had captured! Also, I thought the images would be so grainy they would be like the old Disc Cameras (remember them?!).

My first digital camera was actually a Nokia mobile phone – it boasted a 10 megapixel camera, and I happily filled its memory with random images – none of which, had I taken them with my trusty old point-and-click, would’ve made it past the album cutting-room floor!

After a very short time the novelty of printing out every image petered out, and my albums fell into a dusty retirement.

With the age of the smartphone came social media – somewhere for you to post every image you like for all your friends and complete strangers to look at and critique!

So where do bats come into this do I hear you ask?

“In the United Kingdom it is an offence to intentionally disturb bats or their roosts and this includes any photography without an appropriate license. As a licenced batworker / bat carer I have always exercised extreme caution when photographing bats out on surveys, and have never once used a flash. But then I wonder: should I share the photographs? If I do, who’s to say that unlicenced or untrained people will think it’s ok to start “papping” bats too?

With the ease of snapping just about everything thanks to smartphones, together with the recent flood of social media sites purely for sharing photographs (Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.), it is inevitable that unsuspecting members of the public across the world will happily share photos they have taken of bats: bats on walls, bats on the ground, bats in their natural habitat. And who wouldn’t? How many people actually get the chance to get up close and personal with a bat? 

Many of  these images (in the UK and further afield) come from people who have found the bat during the daytime and need some advice or identification, and so have taken to social media for assistance – something the Bat Conservation Trust is excellent at responding to in a timely fashion.

And then there are the sad images I have found whilst searching #bat on sites such as Instagram – most recently a horrific photo from the US of a bat trapped in a toilet bowl, and a vitriolic comment saying they had “flushed the beast back to the depths of hell where it belonged”.

So, for me, there will be no more searching for bat-related images on such sites, as it only makes me cross to see images and statements like that – no matter how ignorant the user.

But as a bat carer I want to spread bat knowledge far and wide, and I do photograph every rescue which comes into my care, although I don’t photograph deceased animals or animals with terminal injuries, as I find them distressing enough to deal with.

Rescued soprano and common pipistrelle (photo by Liz Vinson)
How to transmit these images safely in social media terms?

I am often asked whether bats bite, and I say that we always recommend anyone rescuing a bat wears gloves or at least wraps the animal in a tea towel. If asked, I confirm that I cannot recall ever being bitten by a bat that had come into my care – which is the truth. However, these are wild animals and if they feel threatened they may act like it, hence the necessity for gloves or other protection.

I was trained never to handle without gloves, even if they were long term care bats, and, although it can make things a bit tricky, I manage. I was also told to never publish any photographs of bats in the hand unless I was wearing gloves. 
Rescued brown long-eared bat (Photo by Liz Vinson)

Rescued Common pipistrelle and pup (Photo by Liz Vinson)
Even if the person handling bats in a photo is trained and vaccinated, publishing pictures of them holding bats in un-gloved hands gives members of the public a clouded view of what is safe and recommended. I understand that batworkers wish to show that bats are not threatening, but would simply popping on a pair of gloves really undermine that message?

I find that white cotton gloves, which are available from most good pharmacies, are ideal a. for handling the smaller species and b. for photography purposes. (Although having said that, I have usually just been feeding the bat when I take a photo, and nine times out of ten I have the remnants of their supper somewhere visible on my gloves.) I also like to wrap bats in a soft cloth as it makes them more secure and less wriggly – something every bat carer dreads whilst trying to hand-feed the insides of mealworms to a tiny pipistrelle!

For larger species, such as serotines, I would not recommend anything thinner than a good gardening glove! Cumbersome as they are, I would not want to run the risk of having the bat’s jaw clamped onto my little finger, all for the sake of a good photo!

The pen is mightier than the sword

Almost more important than the image (of a bat in a gloved hand) which you post are the words that you choose.

Put a little statement about the bat, what species, why you have it and what people can do to help if they find a grounded bat.

Choose your #’s wisely!

If they’re not already there, consider adding the hashtags #licencedbatworker and/or #trainedbatcarer to your bio on social media sites. Other useful hashtags are #batsneedfriends, #batconservation, #batcare, #notapet and #protectedspecies.

Tag your local bat group and BCT so that they can like and share your image, helping to spread bat awareness.

And finally try to respond to any comments you may receive, especially those that ask if the bat is a pet!! – I have seen many comments on bat images on social media like “oh I want one” “I need a pet bat” “where can I get one?” and the original poster hasn’t replied at all.

So we can all do our bit for bat conservation awareness on social media, in a manner which should be the norm. It would be extremely detrimental to bat conservation if a member of the public picked up a bat, was bitten and tragically contracted rabies, and then pointed the finger at a bat carer who shared lots of images of bats in un-gloved hands. Food for thought…

Finally, returning to where I started – film canisters – now there was a useful piece of equipment to take on a roost survey for bat poo sample collection!

Gone are the days….

Liz Vinson
VBRV and registered Bat Carer
Self-employed marketing and social media manager

For more information about how to get involved with Bat Rehabilitation:

For more information about the importance of wearing gloves when handling bats see:


  1. Loved this informative blog Liz. Thank you x

  2. Thank you for this post. I am a Canadian bat bio. Always learning new things from the "UK bat experiences". :-)