Life

Tiny visitor's lucky escape

VALERIE ROBINSON'S

Bats are particularly vulnerable during the summer as they can enter houses via open windows and become trapped. We were, ahem, privy, to one such incident which thankfully had a happy ending

A TINY pipistrelle bat has just had a watery encounter with my family that led to a day-long rescue mission and ended in a dusk departure.

We rescued a bat, most probably a common pipistrelle, after discovering it lying trapped in a toilet bowl at our home.

Bats are particularly vulnerable during the summer, becoming trapped in people's homes because windows are open, while baby bats, known as pups, may be found lying helpless on the ground.

Our bat, who we named Looey for obvious reasons, entered our home in the early hours of a Wednesday.

Northern Ireland bat expert Robin Moffitt suggested that after failing to locate an exit, Looey may have been trying to find water to drink when he ended up in the toilet.

She was also pretty confident that Looey was male because they often fly solo, whereas the females tend to stick together, even babysitting for each other.

Anyway, we were first alerted to Looey's presence when Animal Rescue fan Ava walked into the bathroom and shrieked like the eight-year-old girl she is. At first we thought the pint-sized creature had

drowned until he started to move his wings as we scooped him out with a ladle.

He was obviously exhausted so we wrapped him in a towel and put him into a cardboard box, which was covered with another towel and placed in the bath.

Through Google I discovered that Looey should be given water, containing some salt and sugar, in a jam jar lid.

He remained undisturbed for the rest of the day until Ava and her six-year-old sister Becca returned home and did a quick check on him.

I'll admit that I was very worried that the girls would come home to discover Looey had died from shock because of the trauma he experienced. Having seen the avalanche of grief sparked by the death of a goldfish last month, I could only wonder what the loss of little bat would cause.

However, a fascinating phone conversation with Robin helped assuage my concerns.

She assured me that bats are small but sturdy because any creature that had to fly at night to feed had to be hardy.

On Robin's advice, we took the box outside at dusk, which occurs between 9.45pm and 10pm at the moment, and placed it on its side on top of my car - bats need to fly from a height rather than from ground level.

We all sat inside a window just six feet from the car as Looey initially burrowed further into his towel, but eventually started to peep out, before edging slowly towards freedom. After about 20 minutes, he suddenly moved out pretty quickly, stretching his wings and lifting into the air.

There were hugs and cheers all round, knowing that we had had the rare opportunity to see a bat up close and actually help return him to the wild.

The girls were a little grossed out though when I told them that Looey would eat around 3,500 midges that night before heading off to roost.

Robin said that bats have been particularly vulnerable because of the recent intense heat. Female bats can start moving about in an attempt to cool down, forgetting that their pup is still on the nipple.

She had up to nine calls in the space of a couple of weeks after members of the public found baby bats lying on the ground. While Looey was no bigger than my thumb we know he was an adult because he was covered in hair while common or soprano pipistrelle pups are born without hair and are about the size of a 50p piece.

There is a wealth of advice and information for anyone who finds a grounded or injured bat on batsni.org.uk.

Robin said that while bats are "quite resilient" one of their biggest foes is cats. "Cats to an awful lot of damage. They love to hunt - that's their nature," said Robin, urging people to keep their cats indoors at night for the sake of both bats and birds.

There are nine species of bat in Ireland and, contrary to popular belief, they will not get tangled in your hair or drink your blood.

Robin will be giving walks and talks on bats throughout August, including at the Cultra Folk Museum on August 8 and 9, Lurgan Park on the August 15, Mossley Mill Newtownabbey on August 16, Bessbrook on August 22, Castlewellan Country Park on August 28, Tannaghmore in Craigavon on August 29 and Carnfunnock Country Park on August 30. Most events start at 8pm but participants are advised to check first with venues.

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