Ask someone to picture a vet at work, and they’ll probably imagine them looking after a cat or dog, maybe a horse or rabbit. Ask them to name some British wild mammals, and they might mention hedgehogs, red squirrels or badgers. But one of our most significant mammal groups remains in the shadows. The 18 bat species in the UK account for nearly a quarter of our native mammal species. That’s more than any other group except the cetaceans! And unlike whales and dolphins, bats have a reasonable chance of ending up in the typical vet’s surgery.
In an average year, over 5,000 people call the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT)’s National Bat Helpline after finding grounded or injured bats. About two-thirds of these bats will be looked after by the independent volunteers who make up BCT’s UK Bat Care Network, until they are fit to be released into the wild. But most of the rest will end up being taken to vets.
Since most veterinary professionals receive relatively little training on wildlife – and often none on bats – this may seem daunting. But as many converts have learned both inside and outside the consulting room, bats aren’t so scary! If you’re interested in an animal career, learning to look after bats will help you stand out by giving you a unique and badly needed skill. And you’ll have the tremendous satisfaction of knowing you’re helping a fascinating, misunderstood and ecologically vital group of animals.
A bat that was found stuck to flypaper, pictured just after rescue (left) and after rehabilitation by a volunteer carer (right). ©Gail Armstrong/www.bats.org.uk
If you’re interested in finding out more about these fascinating creatures, BCT will be running a series of online events start from International Bat Night (Saturday 29 August). We are also planning some bat CPD for vets and vet nurses in October, so please check out our events page www.bats.org.uk/events or register your interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to BCT’s training, the best way to gain practical experience of bats is to get involved in voluntary bat rehabilitation. The first step will generally be to contact your local bat group (you can find a list of groups on BCT’s website at www.bats.org.uk/support-bats/bat-groups. They can often connect you to an experienced carer you can work with while learning the ropes.
Once you are handling bats regularly, you’ll need to get rabies vaccinations – rabies viruses are present in low levels in the UK’s bat population and can be spread through bites and scratches. You may be eligible for free vaccinations if your work with bats is purely voluntary, or your employer may pay if you’re doing it so you can care for bats at work. It’s also important to wear gloves when handling bats and seek prompt medical attention if you’re bitten.
Kiran Johal, a volunteer carer on the UK Bat Care Network, first joined her local bat group after hearing a talk about bats at university. Like many volunteers, she didn’t have formal training (although some bat groups do have a more rigid training structure). First she handled, fed and rehydrated bats under an experienced carer’s supervision in Birmingham. Later she moved to London for work, and since she had a bit more experience, she began taking in and assessing bats before discussing their care plan with a more seasoned volunteer. Now based in Lincolnshire, she’s a fully-fledged bat carer who takes bats via the National Bat Helpline.
Volunteer bat carer Kiran Johal extends a bat’s wing. Handling bats correctly is one of the many skills rehabilitators learn. Image courtesy of Kiran Johal.
Kiran says the best things about bat care are “when you successfully release a bat and watch it fly away, and when an awkward bat finally learns how to use a food bowl and doesn't need hand feeding anymore! The most challenging aspect is making a decision on what treatment bats require, and questioning whether or not you are right. If you are interested in bat care then go for it -- but remember only take on as much as you are able to, and focus on doing the best for the bats that you have in your care. Everyone has different methods and things that work for them.”
To learn more about bat rehabilitation, visit www.bats.org.uk/support-bats/volunteer/bat-rehabilitation. You can follow BCT on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Written by: Bat Conservation Trust
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