People Are Traveling To Houston To Save Thousands Of Bats Caught In Flood
“We’re going to stay until we save every bat that can be saved.”
Days after Hurricane Harvey ripped through South Texas, flood waters surged beneath the Waugh Bridge near downtown Houston, threatening a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats who call the underside of the bridge home.
The approximate 250,000 bats are year-round residents of Houston, emerging each night at sunset to feast on the area’s insects, a sight that has become something of a tourist attraction.
But by Tuesday, Houston’s beloved bats were in serious and unexpected danger. Individuals were fishing injured bats out of the water, and attempting to rescue the hundreds of tiny, furry creatures who were waterlogged and stranded along the riverbanks.
It was a situation unlike anything seen before, explained Amanda Lollar, founder and president of Bat World Sanctuary in Arlington, Texas, the only accredited bat sanctuary in the world. “Normally hurricanes and floods aren’t a big issue for bats because they roost high out of the way, so they’re not typically in jeopardy. But I don’t think anyone expected the waters to rise so high that it would get under bridge as quickly as it did,” she told The Dodo.
Bats need to be able to drop off in order to take flight, Lollar noted, but the strong winds, coupled with the quickly rising river, meant those who tried to leave found themselves grounded, and those who stayed were stuck under the bridge hoping the water didn’t reach them.
“Bats have extremely strong flight muscles in their chest and they can usually withstand quite a bit of weight, even pregnant females and bats who carry their pups,” Lollar said. “But being sopping wet and trying to fly in the pouring rain against strong winds — you can imagine what it’s like to try and stay airborne after that. It’s not an easy task.”
When it became apparent that the bats were in imminent danger, a team of rescuers from Bat World Sanctuary drove the five hours down to Houston, and have since been working tirelessly to capture battered and weakened bats.
The team has been treating their injuries and providing them with emergency fluids, electrolytes, food and antibiotics. In just one night the team rescued 200 bats, releasing 100 to 130 back into the wild after treatment.
Many bats who managed to escape sought shelter wherever they could, flying into parking garages, office buildings and houses, Lollar explained. “We’re still getting calls about bats who are hanging from screen porches and in people’s yards where they found temporary refuge and are still just too dazed and confused to make their way back.”
Though the weather has improved, Houston’s bat population is not entirely out of the woods just yet. “The issue there is that once they dry off, they’ve gone several days without food and water, so they’re not strong enough to fly and catch insects,” Lollar added.
Once waters started to recede, the team of rescuers searched for signs of life under the bridge, and were pleased by what they found. “We heard chittering and chirping and they were able to fly out last night to feed on insects, so we know that quite a few thousand did survive just fine,” Lollar said.
Rescuers with Bat World Sanctuary are working with individuals in the area to make sure each bat displaced by Hurricane Harvey gets proper care. They are encouraging any Texas resident who finds a bat in need to safely contain him (by following the directions here) and call the organization’s number (or reach out on Facebook) for further instructions.
Bats are vital to the ecosystem of Texas, according to Lollar, and play an important role in controlling Houston’s insect population. But the free-tailed bats’ appeal is far greater than just their helpful diet. “The thing that makes me love them so much is that they’re like little 2-inch monkeys with wings,” Lollar said. “They’re extremely clean, extremely beneficial, not to mention intelligent, and they can live 15 to 20 years, and each year they’re alive they’ll eat maybe 20 million insects.”
“If it takes another week or a month, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to stay until we save every bat that can be saved.”