INJURIES TO BATS

 
 

 

This series of photos (below) were taken by a passer-by who called us out to rescue the bat.

He was fortunate to be released about 2 weeks later.

 

 

 
 
  



To rescue a bat from a barbed wire fence, you will need:

  1. preferably 2 people, one to hold the bat while the other untangles the bat

  2. best to wear shirts with long sleeves for protection and have thick gloves especially for the person restraining the bat. Many experienced rescuers prefer not to wear gloves as they find it easier to feel the bat through the towel and use the wire cutters.

  3. syringes and water/juice/sugar-salt fluid replacer (e.g.  Vytrate) for rehydration; water also to soften wing if dried out around the releasing. If the bat is badly dehydrated, it will need fluid injections from a trained carer/vet; and it is best to use a product like Vytrate instead of water.

  4. several towels - one to hold the bat, and one over the strand under the bat. This avoids further entanglement.

  5. good side cutters (wire cutters) to cut the barbs on which the bat is entangled as close as possible

  6. good pliers to bend wire if necessary. Sometimes it is necessary to unwind the barb off the fence.

  7. good scissors as under rare circumstances you may need to cut the wing membrane to disentangle.

  8. carry cage or basket. It is generally better to leave the bat loosely wrapped in the towel in a basket during transport.

Get as much information from the caller as you can eg height of fence as it may be industrial fencing. Ask them to make sure bat is safe from dogs, cats, irresponsible people or birds of prey, but to keep a respectable distance so that bat does not become more stressed. Ask if they know if its been there since just the previous night.
Approach the bat slowly while talking to it. Assess the safety of the situation for you and the bat eg is there an electric fence as well? Is this a fence that can be cut?

Have 2 people, one has heavy duty gloves, holds a bath towel folded in half lengthwise, and restrains the bat. The bigger the bat, the larger and thicker the towel. The other person assesses the degree of entanglement. Is the wing dried onto the wire, or is it fresh and likely to slide easily? Syringe or spray water onto wing if its dried on to the wire.
Cut barbs with side cutters as close as possible to the wing, or with landowner permission cut the fence itself each side of the bat. (The author has rescued hundreds of animals off fences and never needed to cut the fence.) Extreme care is needed if the fence is well strained, as the strain will need to be taken up first). It can be very difficult to unwind the wing from the barbs and the longer the bat has been there the more difficult it is. Once the bat is removed, it will generally settle best if wrapped in closed basket, rather than being allowed to hang in a cage. Done properly, it should almost never be necessary to cut the wing. Get the bat to an experienced bat carer as soon as possible.


 

All photos: Steve Amesbury This bat looks like she is just resting, but the damage is evident in the photos to right and left.

These species have been reported as victims of barbed wire fencing:
Spectacled flying fox Pteropus conspicillatus
Grey-headed flying fox Pteropus poliocephalis
Black flying fox Pteropus alecto
Little Red flying fox Pteropus scapulatus
Tube-nosed fruitbat Nyctimene robinsonii
Blossom Bat Sychonycteris australis

Long-eared bat Nyctopilus bifax
Ghost bats Macroderma gigas
White-striped freetail Tadarida australis


Injuries in flying foxes include:

1. Mouth. In desperation many bats will try to bite themselves off the barbs. This can result in severe damage to the roof of the mouth, loss of teeth and even fractures of the jaw.
Treatments: Aspirin, sometimes antibiotics and a soft diet are crucial for healing. Surgery may be necessary.

2. Wing membrane. The wing of a bat consists of 2 layers of skin with nerves, blood vessels, musculature and lymphatics in between. Most bats are caught on the fence by their wings, and this results in tearing, puncturing, severe bruising, inflammation and death of tissue. The wing is often badly twisted as the bat is spun around on impact, as well as from struggling to free itself.
Treatments: Clean the area and use Aspirin clear - click here for more information about the use of Aspirin.pdf

3. Bones. Bones can be broken, or stripped bare. We find dressings, such as Duoderm and Bioclusive that keep the wound moist, to be extremely helpful. Regeneration of wing tissue around the bone can sometimes be miraculous, especially in a young animal.
Treatments: Antibiotics, surgery in some cases.

4. Body. Bats can be entangled by the hair and skin anywhere. The resulting puncture wounds can be of varying severity.
Treatments: Trim hair around wound and clean. Will usually need oral antibiotics, as well as topical treatment.

  1. 5.The penis... ouch! These photos were taken at a rescue near Nowra. Photos by Gerry Hawkins and Steve Amesbury.

Do not be tempted to rescue the bat and let it go. There is usually a die-back process in the wing that may not be evident for several days. The damage may look quite minimal at first, but lack of blood supply to the wing while it is still entangled can lead to a surprising amount of die-back, or loss of wing membrane. Many of these bats may fly away at the time, but then lose the ability to fly over the next few days. Bones are often broken or stripped of wing membrane, and infection may set in. The animal is nearly always stressed and dehydrated, and needs to be kept in care for a minimum of 2 weeks to assess the full effect of the damage. Bats can have a lot of difficulty eating anything except smoothies and fluids until their mouths heal. It is not always immediately evident if the bat will be releasable.

Photo: Ashleigh Johnson The twisting that can occur. Note barbs have been removed before trying to remove bat from fence.

Photo: Ashleigh Johnson. The dieback that occurs some days after rescue. The resulting slit will make it impossible for this bat to fly,

The Little Red flying foxes are affected more than the 3 larger species of flying foxes, presumably as their flight is weaker in windy conditions. It is not uncommon for large numbers of Little Red flying foxes to get caught over a few weeks, especially when the young cannot fly well enough to cope with windy conditions. On the Atherton Tablelands, these mass events usually occur in August to October. In 1994, 442 Little Red flying foxes were caught, mostly along one 10 km stretch of barbed wire. Little Reds occur across northern and eastern Australia extending inland long distances depending on the availability of flowering trees.
We have often rescued bats from government-funded fences that are protecting revegetation plantings from cattle. The irony is that one goal of the revegetation plantings is to improve biodiversity, but when bats come to offer their seed dispersal and pollination services, they are caught. As the plantings increase in height, the situation often improves.

As the plantings increase in height, the situation often improves.

Photo: Sonja Elwood Severe damage to bones and membrane of both wings

Photo: Jenny Maclean Maggot eggs in wound

Photo: Ashleigh Johnson Blossom bat on a new fence