Myths, benefits abound about bats

Visitors to the Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac learn of the problems bats face, the benefits they bring and the myths that have grown about them. PHOTO/JACKY RAY

OU News Bureau

Downtown Pontiac is the new bat zone.

Located in a two-story brick building at the intersection of Huron Street and Woodward, the Organization for Bat Conservation opened in Pontiac in July 2017. Before the move, it was inside of Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills.

The move to Pontiac came from the launch earlier this year of the urban bat initiative. Phil Garofalo, communication director, said the organization was looking for an urban location to conduct research on urban bats.

Injured bats arrive from around the world. PHOTO/JACKY RAY

The urban bat initiative began because bats in urban areas are thriving while rural bats are not doing as well. The organization wants to find out why.

“The secondary factor is that we really wanted to be a part of urban renewal and Pontiac has been wonderful to us,” Garofalo said. “Everyone has been great: very warm, very welcoming.”

The organization receives bats from around the world. Most of the bats come injured or with health problems.

They live in the habitats inside. Volunteers and full-time employees clean habitats and cut up fruits. Trained professionals spend time nursing the animals back to health.

Most organization are larger and cannot provide specialized care for each bat. That’s where the Organization for Bat Conservation comes in.

“We don’t have a ton of animals so that our keepers can give that kind of personalized care,” Garofalo said.

The organization has about 250 animals. Although the name mentions bats, it has rescued other animals, including a sloth, skunks, owls and others that need specialized care.

During October, the conservation held tours Friday through Sunday. Visitors were told of the problems bats face, the benefits they bring and the myths that have grown about them.

Phil Garofalo

In North America, the bat population decreases about a million bats per year. The reason for this rapid rate is due to the largest risk to bats: white nose syndrome. This fungus originates from Europe and it grows on bats while they hibernate in caves.

“The fungus itself does not kill the bats. What happens is as it grows on the bats while in the caves it irritates them, and it wakes them up early from hibernation,” Garofalo said. “The bats then fly out of the cave and there is no food, so they starve to death.”

Even though white nose syndrome is the biggest threat to bats, the misconceptions are just as large.

Myths and facts

Bats are useful for insect control: “Here in the United States, bats save farmers one billion dollars annually, just protecting corn crops. They attack and eat corn earworms which feasts on the corn,” Garofalo said.

No bats, No Tequila: Bats are actual the sole pollinator of the agave plant, which gives us tequila.

They don’t suck your blood: “There are only three species of vampire bats and they don’t suck blood,” Garofalo said. “They’ll sneak up on their prey, which is usually a goat or chicken, and they make a little incision and then they lap the blood up.”

Bats aren’t blind: “They actually can see very well. Fruit bats have big eyes and they search for fruit,” Garofalo said. “Also, they can see and echolocate quite well. They typically try to avoid humans.”

Dawn Vezina, education specialist and program administrator, shows visitors how far a bat’s wings can expand. PHOTO/JACKLYNN RAY

The organization’s tours typically run an hour or less. Visitors are shown the “bat zone” and get an echolocation demonstration.

An attendee on one of the tours, Eric Smith, 23, of Waterford, said, “I came to this with a group of friends just for something to do, but I really ended up enjoying the tour. I never knew how useful bats were to the environment.”

Patrons can sponsor an animal. One-time or monthly donations help care for these animals and allow a way for the community to get involved.  

The new location is limited to one floor for tours, but the plan is to expand. The second floor has a classroom that the organization plans to use to teach in-depth topics about bats and allow visitors to see all their rescued animals      


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Posted by on Dec 6 2017. Filed under Featured article, Oakland County. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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