Batty For Russell

Judy Quan

© Copyright 2024 by Judy Quan

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Like most people I meet, I was initially afraid of bats, erroneously believing them to be scary, aggressive creatures of dark fiction. I am an avid animal lover, and at one time, after viewing an educational piece about Bat World Sanctuary in west Texas, I wished I lived closer to the sanctuary so I could volunteer there. My husband and I bought a retirement home deep in the wooded area of a rural East Texas county, and after I retired from a long nursing career, I signed up for Wildlife care classes, in order to care for injured wildlife I might encounter. I learned about raccoons, opossums and squirrels, but never dreamed I would be able to learn about and actually care for bats.

I had a long bucket list of things I wanted to do after retirement, but I wasnít sure I would be able to check ďwildlife rescue and rehabĒ off the list. I was pleasantly surprised when the opportunity arose to do just that.. I signed up for the initial wildlife rehabilitation classes, to attain a general background and specialize in opossum rehab. The class was held at a nearby animal shelter, and they had rescued a baby opossum that they planned to keep as an education ambassador. I was beyond the moon happy when they allowed us to hold the little guy. I had long been fascinated by them, but had been a bit scared of their fierce looking teeth. I learned a gentle and beneficial side of them during class, and now treasure any opossum that decides to make my property its home.

Little did I know that the teacher, who was an opossum and raccoon expert, was also an expert in bat care and rehab, and in fact was a director of a bat sanctuary. She had a satellite facility only 50 miles from me, and even better, she brought some of her sanctuary bats to class. They were nothing like I had thought. She introduced them to us, but we werenít allowed to handle them unless and until we provided proof of pre exposure rabies vaccines.

Bats are very intelligent, and have unique, individual personalities. They purr when happy, and one of our teacherís sanctuary bats even enjoyed being brushed with a mascara brush after mealtime. The Texas evening bats are tiny, similar in size to hummingbirds or smaller. They eat insects. They donít drink blood or chase people, or any of myths I had heard for years.

I fulfilled the requirement for rabies vaccination, so I could work with bats, and became a transport volunteer. .After more training, my mentor entrusted me to care for 5 special needs bats while she travelled to teach rehabbers in other states. Three of the bats were amputees, having lost wings to tragic accidents. Two had both wings, but they didnít support flight. One had perfectly formed wings, but had lost the ability to coordinate her movements due to a head injury. Russell was the other flightless one of those two. She had been an orphan, whose wings were deformed due to a nutritional deficiency. She had been rescued as a baby, but her rehabber had been unable to meet the nutritional balance necessary for her to develop proper wings. That is very difficult, and few rehabbers succeed with infant bats, due to their extremely small size and the nutritional requirements.

Russellís wings may have been deformed, but her spunky personality was unaffected. She quickly became my favorite of the five. She was the first in line for feedings. Each mealtime, as I assembled the live mealworms and refreshed tiny bottlecaps of water, she scurried to the mesh door of the bat enclosure, demanding to be the first to eat. She talked in her little hissy voice, tipped her head to make eye contact, and made it clear that she was first. She loved to eat, and gobbled up the live mealworms that I handfed, with gusto! She knew her name and my voice. During Spring, when I was also rehabbing baby opossums, I discovered that baby opossums triggered my allergies, so I wore a mask to feed. Russell would not eat until I took the mask off.

Another day, as I finished feeding the bats, I failed to fully close the zippered closing of their mesh cage by a mere Ĺ inch. Enterprising little bat that she was, Russell went on the lam. My husband and I tore the animal room apart, looking for her. But when you are Ĺ ounce animal, you can hide anywhere you want to. She hadnít mastered the skill of self-feeding, so I worried about her and hoped she would come home. As her absence approached 2 days, I reluctantly gave up hope and went about my everyday routine with a sadness. I missed the intelligent, sassy, funny girl.

As night approached at the end of day two, I busied myself with making dinner. A rustling sound caught my attention, and I looked down to see what I thought was a leaf, blowing across the floor, Then I realized it was Russell, walking towards me, in her unique bat crawl on elbows of the crippled wings and her tiny back feet. I was delighted. ď Where have you been?Ē I asked her, as she lifted up her wings, and climbed onto my hand. Based on the trajectory of her journey, I suspected she had hid out in the air conditioning vents, and travelled along their path to the kitchen.

We immediately went to the animal room for a dinner of mealworms, which she ate like she hadnít had a meal in two days! From that day forward, I double checked the zipper closing and seams of her enclosure to make sure Russell couldnít run away again.

Two months after Russellís great adventure, I noticed something amiss with her. She didnít seem as hungry as usual. Except for being off her feed, she appeared in good health. I called my mentor and she agreed to see Russell in clinic the next day. I held Russell and tried to tempt her with the best, juiciest mealworms. She nibbled at one, then turned her head away from further food. She laid her head on my thumb and cuddled. She had never been a cuddler, so that concerned me as well.

When I went into the animal room to feed bats the next morning, there was no Russell at the door of her cage, demanding to be fed. I searched for her and found her on the outside of the little faux cave where she and her four companions slept. She had died during the night, with her little, crooked wings outstretched. I reported her death to my mentor, who told me she thought Russell was just old, and it had been her time to die. I think Russell lived as happy a life as a little flightless bat could live.

I still think of Russell, and every once in awhile as I browse the photos on my phone, I come across a picture of her resting in my hand, between thumb and forefinger, waiting for the next mealworm. It was she who taught me to truly love these magnificent creatures, a true ambassador for these often misunderstood and underappreciated, wonderful creatures.

While my writing experience means I don't qualify to enter a contest, I would like to submit a story I wrote about an orphaned bat that I temporarily fostered. I don't care about money or prizes, but I would just like to show the readers what wonderful creatures bats are, and help dispel harmful stigmas about the species.

For more information about nurturing bats visit the Batworld website.

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