Early in November, I set out to Gainesville, Florida to attend a Fruit Bat Husbandry Course hosted by Lubee Bat Conservancy. The annual husbandry course sees visitors from all over the world who come together to work with these amazing creatures. Most of the attendees are keepers from zoological associations who work with bats on a daily basis. Others, like myself, are animal enthusiasts, or conservationists who just want to understand these fantastic mammals better.
The course is two full, action packed days that take you through many different areas of fruit bat husbandry. Areas covered include; proper handling techniques, diet, enrichment, nail trims, disease, habitat, exhibits, anesthesia, blood draws, tissue sample collection, training and more. Each day was full of hands on experiences with the bats, which was absolutely magnificent. Being that I am not a zoo keeper, the most interesting parts included any hands on opportunities, or observations. It was enthralling just to watch them move, interact, feed, sleep, communicate and more. A species that spends its life upside down is certainly a unique one, and who knew they had the amazing personalities to match their strange way of life?
Each one of them had their very own unique personality traits. Some were very social to both other bats and people, others were more apprehensive and scurried away when a person were to enter, others demanded attention at every possible moment. I witnessed teamwork, curiosity, agility and intelligence. It took only mere minutes and I was in love, these perfect creatures were an incredible part of nature and it became clear to me how gravely misunderstood they are.
In my conversations with locals both en route and leaving the conservancy, I learned there were many uninformed people out there with negative perceptions around bats and their place in the ecosystem. Everyone I spoke to was shocked to learn fruit bats are pollinators and vital to the survival of the planet. Others were just scared of bats in general and were surprised to hear that someone would be voluntarily wishing to work with them. Even more surprising was many locals had no idea they had bats living in the wild right there in Gainesville (500,000 at the University of Florida alone!) However, as I spoke with them, I was pleased to gauge a positive reaction to learning more about them and noticed that people were happy to have learned a little bit about these flying mammals and why they are to be celebrated, not feared.
What was myy favorite part of the two day intensive? It was a toss up between the bat handling, enrichment techniques, and the blood draws. As a former veterinary technician, it was quite satisfying to see that I still had some medical skills in my tool belt and was able to successfully draw blood on the first try! YES! Even more important than what I learned during the practical sessions were the moments I was able to just observe them and spend time with them. Bats are essential to the ecosystems in which they live. From pollination to insect control, they provide essential functions that keep our planet running smoothly. The better we as humans can understand animals and how we all connect, the more we will fight for our planet and everyone and everything that calls it home.
If you are interested in learning more about Lubee Bat Conservancy and what they do, check them out here: www.lubee.org
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