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Protect bats, don’t kill them, says expert

By Vanessa Hrvatin Special to The Journal A local man says bats are critical to the ecosystem and their declining population needs our attention.
Sharon Peterson with an African fruit bat.Vanessa Hrvatin
Sharon Peterson with an African fruit bat. Vanessa Hrvatin

By Vanessa Hrvatin

 Special to The Journal

A local man says bats are critical to the ecosystem and their declining population needs our attention.

Jeff Bender, executive director and founder of the Canadian Institute for Bat Research based in Sarnia, hopes his new organization will make a difference.

“There are no facilities in Canada that act as a sanctuary for orphaned or injured bats, so the goal is for us to develop one,” he said. “The more education we can do to get people aware of the importance of bats, the better, because protecting them is an absolute necessity.”

The Canadian Institute for Bat Research was established last September, but Bender’s love for bats dates back more than 20 years.

“I came across an injured bat and I didn’t know what to do with him, so I started doing research and realized there wasn’t any place for me to take him to get rehabilitated,” he said.

Since then Bender has trained with Bat Conservation International, one of the largest bat conservation groups in the world.

“I love bats. They’re so cool and often times they’re just misunderstood,” he said.

He and Sharon Peterson, a bat educator and naturalist from Chicago, made a series of presentations in Sarnia last week, dispelling myths and explaining why bats need to be protected.

“Bats eat insects, most importantly mosquitoes which carry diseases,” said Peterson. “Scientists estimate that if we were to get rid of bats, we’d be swimming in bugs up to our neck.

“Bats are one of the most misunderstood animals in the world,” said Peterson during a presentation Thursday afternoon at the Maawn Doosh Gumig Community Centre.

To prove just how misunderstood these creatures really are, Peterson said no bat species is blind, disproving the famous phrase ‘blind as a bat.’ She also says bats won’t cause damage to a house as most people might expect.

“Bats won’t gnaw through things in your home because they don’t want to damage their teeth,” she says. “The best way to get rid of them is through the exclusion bat process.”

This process involves securing a piece of flexible plastic tubing over the hole where bats are entering a house. When bats exit through the hole they will fly into the tube which collapses on itself, trapping the bats. Once the bats have been excluded, they should be released into a bat house—a structure closely resembling a bird house—which offers them a safe place to sleep.

Peterson and Bender’s presentations featured a special guest, Topo, an African straw-coloured fruit bat who lives with Peterson in Chicago. The original plan was for Peterson to also bring along four other bats, but they had trouble crossing the border.

Topo successfully managed the spotlight on his own, as kids and adults alike gasped at his large wingspan and furry little face.

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