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New program aims to engage public about bats
There’s no reason to be afraid of bats even though many people are, says Margaret Holm, Okanagan Community Bat Program co-ordinator.
The Okanagan Community Bat Program is a new initiative to answer people’s questions about bats as well as to seek the public’s help in locating and monitoring bat populations.
The program was launched late in May and is funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. Similar programs are operating in other regions of the province.
Bats consume large quantities of insects, Holm said, and some people want them for insect control.
Others though are concerned about bat droppings or noise and want to be rid of them. The program can help people do both.
“The bat project is trying to tell people that it may not be a bad thing if they’ve got a few bats,” said Holm. “My neighbours have a little maternal colony of about 100 bats in their house. It doesn’t bother them at all and they’re quite tolerant of this. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to have a maternal roost.
“We do want to let people know that if they do have bats that are in the wrong place, the bat program is there to help them find solutions, restricting them from buildings if need be. We’ve got ideas on how to do that effectively. For everybody I’ve talked to that wants to get rid of bats, there’s another 50 per cent of people who are trying to figure out how to attract bats and we can help with that too.”
Among the most common misconceptions, Holm said, are that bats spread rabies or that they fly into people’s hair.
While a certain percentage may carry rabies, and you should never pick up a bat that is struggling or looks sick, they don’t carry rabies in a higher percentage than other animals, she said.
Cases of rabies in bats are rare.
And when bats appear to swoop down near your hair, they are probably more interested in the mosquitos around you than your hair and they will avoid humans.
“Bats really don’t care about human beings very much at all,” said Holm. “They have really good echolocation so they know exactly where you are. They’re very good at finding their way around. ‘Blind as a bat’ is completely untrue. They can see. Plus they have this ability like sonar to know exactly where they’re going.”
Nor do bats in North America eat fruit, though some species of bats in other parts of the world do, she said. Rather, they eat vast amounts of insects, in particular flying moths and beetles, but also mosquitos.
B.C. has the highest bat diversity in Canada with 16 of the 19 species found here, says the B.C. Ministry of Environment. And of those 16 species, 14 can be found in the Okanagan.
Almost half the species are considered at risk due to concerns about habitat changes affecting populations and limited locations for roosting.
There is very little information about bat numbers, and so “Got Bats?” programs throughout the province are encouraging people to help monitor and count bats around them.
“We’d love to hear from people who notice bats entering buildings on their property,” said Holm. “We really want to know the locations of these little colonies and if we can get people to count the bats to help us census them, that would be helpful.”
The program, she said, can send out DNA kits that analyze samples of bat droppings to identify the species of bat found.
Many parts of Canada and the U.S. have recently been hit with a fungal disease, White Nose Syndrome, which kills bats during their winter hibernation period.
With the disease predicted to arrive in B.C. within the next decade, monitoring bat populations is essential for detecting sudden declines, the Ministry of Environment said.
Those wishing information about bats or who want to report colonies or help with the count can phone 1-855-9BC-BATS (1-855-922-2287) or visit the website www.bcbats.ca.