FACTS AL OUT BATS: bats don’t make nests in sofas.” Nor do they chew holes in walls, chase children and pets, or suck human blood—but questions like these are common for BCI’s public information staff, Every week they respond to hundreds of calls, letters, and e-mail queries from citizens, educators, cor porations, and a variety of govern ment agencies, with requests ranging from the urgent to the humorous. One worried caller contacted BCI because he was told that to get rid of the bats living in his summer cottage, he would have to burn it down. Obviously, the hapless homeowner had been given incorrect informa tion—a common occurrence.
BCI staff answer
hundreds of questions a week— some amusing, others critically important
BCI’s Conservation Information Coordinator, Barbara French, enjoys dispelling com mon myths about bats and pro viding much-needed information.
Although we’re always eager to share our expertise, providing these services is a daunting task. Each month, BCI receives an average of 1,400 letters and 1,800 phone requests for general and scientific information about bats. Of these, more than 400 involve conservation needs, nuisance problems, and public health emer gencies that require special handling by our Conservation Information Coordinator, Barbara French, our Public Information Officer, Bob Benson, or one of our six other back up staff specialists. Many of these calls are simple cases of mistaken identity. Once, a rock-quarry worker wanted to find out how to get rid of “all the bats making a mess in our quarry.” When asked to describe the situation, the caller said, “They keep messing around in the puddles, then they fly up to the cliff and smash mud all over the place.” Barbara French asked if these activities were occur ring in the daytime. “All day long,” French caller responded. the smiled—bats in the daytime? “No sir, what you have are cliff swallows.” On another occasion, a panic was set off by “screaming bats swarming around the streetlights” of an urban neighborhood. Parents were forbid ding their children to go outside in the evening. “It’s a swarm of rabid bats,” the upset caller insisted to French. “They’re making a loud, whistling noise and swooping close to the streetlights.” The witness described the animals as having white markings on their wings. With that clue, French knew immediately that the frightening creatures were only hungry nighthawks hunting for insects. Sometimes, however, bats really are the culprits—most often annoy ing homeowners by roosting where
BATS. Vol. 13, No.4, Winter 1995
PUBLIC INFORMATION PROGRAM
they are not wanted. In years past, people who discovered bats in their houses would probably call one per son: the local exterminator. These days, thanks in part 10 BCI’s public information efforts, more and more people are investigating the alterna tives. The most successful of these is the exclusion method, a simple way of netting roost exits to prevent bats from re-entering their roost sites. Exclusions are a humane and effec tive way to rid a home of unwanted bats, and detailed instructions are provided in BCI’s “Dealing with Unwanted Guests” brochure. French estimates that the exclusion informa tion BCI has provided this year alone has saved many thousands of bats. “Dealing with Unwanted Guests” is just one of our “Facts on the fly” brochures, which cover topics rang ing from student reading lists to pub lic health information. The brochures were created to provide the maxi mum amount of information to callers while minimizing time demands on staff members. that recipients of the brochures, and of course our mem bers, will help pass on correct infor mation to their communities, their local animal control and public health ofticials, and the press. Because many people get their introduction to bats through the media, it is critical that writers and reporters have accurate and complete information. It falls to Bob Benson, our Public Information Officer, to contain false news reports and articles—as our progress can eas ily be reversed by even a few irre sponsible journalists. In the early ‘90s the popular columnist Ann Landers published a letter from a man who claimed he was attacked by a fruit bat in Austin, Texas. (The flaw in this claim is probably apparent to many
T IS OUR HOPE
BAlE, Vol. 13, No.4, Winter 1995
Bats roost ing in attics, like these Yunza bats (Myotis Vumanensis), often prompt homeowners to seek advice on how to safely remove them. BCI provides callers with exclusion information and referrals to reputable pest control companies.
of our members.) Landers’ response was a perfect example of the igno rance and prejudice facing bats. “Bats were never very high on my hit parade,” she wrote, and in a later col umn described bats as “unappealing and just plain ugly” Of course, her comments caused an avalanche of mail from our members as ;vell as an official reply from Benson. Landers was so overwhelmed that she vowed to never mention bats again and asked people to stop sending her batrelated mail [BATS, Summer 19901. One of He most damaging stories in recent BCI history came from Michigan in 1993. It was reported that gases from bat guano had caused the explosion of an abandoned park headquarters building [BATS, Spring 19941. The story was circulated nationally by the Associated Press, which led media personalities such as radio commentator Paul Harvey and syndicated columnist Dave Barry to
pick it up. Suddenly park officials were deluged. “We got calls from all over the world,” park manager Wayne Suida later told a reporter. As is often the case with negative media attention, BCI members sent us clip pings of the story and asked us to come to the bats’ defense. The public information staff responded and, with Merlin Tuttle’s help, prompted officials to reopen the case. Inves tigators determined that the blast was caused by the accidental ignition of methane gas from the septic sys tem—the bats were vindicated. It is difficult to imagine how many bats could be exterminated as a result of even one such alarming story BCI’s REPUTATION for responding to conservation emer gencies, our members and concerned citizens, as well as government and private organizations, often warn us about potential problems. Such was