- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - The mailbox on Chapman Road is like no other: painted bright yellow with black flying bats.

On the front door of Bob and Ann Walton’s house is a sign letting visitors know there are mealworms between the storm and front doors. Step inside the sheet hanging across the door to the dining room is a clear tip-off that some of the home’s residents are a little different.

Enter the dining room and find yourself in the bat cave, where the furry critters have their cube-shaped, cloth homes stacked on a shelf. It’s kind of a bat high-rise. One cube contains 14 males, another an assortment of females and, living by himself, a young brown bat that the couple raised because he was one of a set of triplets. A mother can only handle two pups at a time, so the young bat would have starved to death.

Bob Walton, who is known for his work rehabbing raptors, has been rehabbing bats as well. People have many misconceptions about the animals, Walton said, particularly vampire bats that have been portrayed as blood-thirsty. While it’s true that they drink blood they just nick the skin of their prey and then lap up the blood. An agent in their saliva keeps the blood from clotting while they feed. This anti-clotting agent has been used to produce a new drug that will help patients who have blood clot issues. So far the drug has been shown to be very promising in several trials.

Walton, who is vaccinated against rabies, said he has only come across rabid bats three times in the 1,500 bats he has rehabilitated over the years. But he is careful and uses gloves when he handles the small creatures. Generally he begins getting calls about bats in the fall as the season cools and the female bats and pups migrate to warmer locations. The male bats live on their own.

Looking for warm places to spend the winter, they sometimes end up in people’s attics or basements. If the bat is in good health it can be a case of removing it and releasing it. If the bat has suffered any injuries then it could be in Walton’s care for many months as it needs to heal and rebuild its strength. Starting in January he begins to get more calls to deal with female bats. While most of the males can be re-released in April, he tends to release the females around June. Some of the bats in Walton’s care can never go back to the wild because their injuries have been severe enough to affect how they fly.

These bats, which can live up to 40 years in captivity, are used at school programs. Walton educates children about how good bats are for the environment and dispels any misinformation they might have about the tiny, winged mammals.

“There’s a big need for bat rehabbing,” Walton said.

Loss of habitat, disease and the new wind farms have been very hard on the bat population, Walton said. Since 2007 a concern over white-nosed bat syndrome has grown. It has killed more than 5.7 million bats in the Northeast since its discovery. The disease is a fungus that Walton said likes cool damp places, like caves. Bats go into a period of inactivity in the winter. Unlike hibernation they occasionally wake up, stretch, expel waste, and go back to sleep. Because they are not eating at this time but living off their stored fat, anytime they wake up they burn up calories. With white nose disease the fungus attacks the bare skin on the animal, similar to athletes foot, Walton said. This makes them restless and itchy and they keep rousing from their stasis. Eventually they can starve to death. Walton said the fungus has affected bats in southern Indiana caves, and because it is spread by spelunkers who do not properly clean their equipment and boots, Indiana Department of Natural Resources has closed some of the caves. So far it has not been seen in northern parts of the state.

Walton is not alone in his bat rehab efforts. He has a number of volunteers in the area who also have bat rehab areas in their homes. Walton said he is always looking for volunteers.

Volunteer Kathleen Crick has always been fascinated with animals. She has a biology degree that she was not using when she came across a few bats. Other people wanted nothing to do with them, but it made her curious and she wanted to learn more about them. The more she learned, the more she thought bat rehab and rescue might just be one of those purposes in life that she had found. That was when she turned to Bob and Ann Walton. They were happy to teach her.

“They learned pretty quickly I was serious about it,” Crick said.

She said she had learned about all she can from the Waltons. She has been vaccinated for rabies, which she added is a good idea if you are working with wildlife, and is beginning to do rescues on her own. Walton said she has already done presentations in schools.

Walton is slowly getting people to see bats the way he does. He has trained rescuers who live around the state including Indianapolis as well as one in Chicago.

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Source: The News-Sentinel: https://bit.ly/1Pfw3Y9

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Information from: The News-Sentinel, https://www.news-sentinel.com/ns

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