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The Walton's are Going Bats
By Barb Sieminski; September 2006 News Sentinel

A third-grader wondered how guest speaker Robert Walton could tell the difference between girl and boy bats. Without batting an eye, the conservationist answered easily, "The same as people." and quickly went back to his lecture.

Bob and Ann Walton, who founded Going Bats (a Rehabilitation Residence for Injured and Displaced Bats) in 2003, are bat-rehabilitators. The couple has nursed many bats - which claim the distinction of being the only flying mammals - back to functionality.

In other words, the couple "repairs, or winters, over these mammals for release back into the wild as soon as possible, where they really belong," explained Ann Walton, a retired school teacher.

It all started when Bob, a board member and rescuer involved with Soaring Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation began taking injured owls to a general mammal rehabber near Kendallville.

"This rehabber was really fond of the bats she received, and whenever she had a bat in the Fort Wayne area, she had it delivered to Wild Birds Unlimited, where Bob worked part-time," said Ann Walton.

He, loving all creatures, started transferring these bats to the mammal rehabber himself and often stayed to help her do the evaluation. When she moved to FL, she wanted Bob to take over the bat rehab since there was no one else in the area who would work with them.

A very busy Bob declined, said Ann Walton, but, "somehow, he started getting calls for bats needing rescuing. He's kept his work confined to these beneficial creatures, as it is easier to do a good job when the focus is on only one species - less equipment, housing, meds, and so on."

As more bat calls came in, Bob, who gives free talks to nature groups, schools, garden clubs and park departments, went to Bat World in TX for their Bat Boot Camp, a week of intensive hands-on training.

"We have a strict protocol for every bat that comes our way," said Bob, a retired Magnavox electrical engineer. "Each of our bats first receives an extensive exam for diagnosis of possible injury, emaciation, dehydration and so on. Upon admission, every bat also receives a rabies inoculation, hydration with a Sub-Q of Ringers Lactate and a drop of Revolution to kill any ecto and endo-parasites, such as mites. Breaks, bruises, wing tears, illnesses are then treated either by us or by our caring vet, Pat Funnell, DVM, who provides medical treatments beyond our abilities. Many vets will not deal with wild animals. We do have very able helpers who provide vacation relief when only a few 'invalid' bats are in residence.

"Then each bat is put in isolation for 7-10 days for observation to determine if there any other problems we may have missed. Furless infants are put into an incubator, while slightly-furred youngsters of the same species are placed together in a heated communal cage.

"When each bat is ready for release, its flying ability is tested in our 35' by 10' by 10' flight pen in our barn. If the aerial exam is passed, the bat is released in the appropriate location for its species and situation. Bats, in this zone, because of weather and food supply, can be released only between late April and mid-October."

There are nearly 1,100 species worldwide which makes up one-fourth of all mammal species, said Bob Walton, and, "700 species are insect eaters, which is very important to people globally. The smallest bat is the Bumblebee Bat of Thailand, weighing less than a penny and with a body as long as the first part of your thumb. The largest one is the Indonesian Flying Fox, a fruit eater with a 6-foot wingspan".

"Little Brown Bats may eat 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour; a colony of Big Brown Bats can protect the farmer by eating up to 33 million root worm moths in a summer."

Forget the old saw, "blind as a bat." Bats are not blind, and many can see as well as people, said Bob, adding that the little creatures use echolocation for hunting because they are most active at night.

Can a rehabber pick up and feed the bats by hand?

"Yes, but it is better that they feed themselves. It's ok to pick them up but proper precautions should be taken. First, we handle each bat while wearing gloves. After the initial isolation period and depending on the bat's temperament the bats may be picked up bare-handed, and this makes it easier to clean cages, do flight testing, and perform treatments," said Bob, who thinks the best part of being a rehabber is, "seeing the bats fly free."

Inside the Walton's house is a very warm (77-80°) "Bat Room," hidden behind a curtain that separates the area from the foyer. Upon entering, a visitor will see several temporary, variously-sized bat residences where the mammals can be nursed back to health.

"We keep our Brown Bats in nylon netted dog carriers of two sizes," explained Ann Walton. "The netting makes it easier for the bats to hang on safely when climbing around. We hang sturdy and folded surgical towels on the sides as curtains for hiding places - they hide in the folds, often 8 or 9 squeezed together in the winter".

"The thickly-quilted denim 'pouches' serve as substitute warm crevices for our Brown Bats and are made by volunteers at Bat World.

"Brown Bats are colonial and closely roost together, hiding in crevices, nooks and crannies, mostly in dark places. We therefore try to make our temporary home for them as natural as possible".

"The cage where we keep Abby, a Red Bat is a softer-netted Reptarium lined with even softer rubber shelf liner because the Red Bats have much more delicate fingers and claws which could easily break in harder caging. Since Abby is a forest bat, we put in grape vines and leaf bunches from which she can hang, instead of curtains and pouches."

Since its beginning, Going Bats has processed 267 bats of which 192 have been released to the wild - some are dead on arrival or too badly injured upon which they are either euthanized or die before treatment takes effect.

We had to ask - would bats make good domestic pets?

"No," said Batman - uh, Bob. "They sleep all day, and are only active at night until fed and then they sleep. They are small and can easily hide - and they don't play or fetch!"

"However, you can take pictures of them anytime, even if they’re sleeping. They are hams!"

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