As covid 19 ravages our country and threatens our families, friends, and neighbors, there is ever more collateral damage. You may or may not be aware, but state and national guidance is severely restricting interaction with native North American bats.
Today, we got official notification from our state wildlife agency. In a nutshell, for the time being in Virginia, we will only be able to rehabilitate threatened and endangered species. We cannot take even orphans of ‘common’ species. These TEMPORARY restrictions have been put in place out of an abundance of caution in an attempt to protect our fragile bat populations. The bats currently in rehabilitation will stay with us until it is determined they are safe to release. We are required to use protective equipment so as not to infect any bats in our care.
We beg of you to understand that we will have to turn animals away, and we have no good alternatives to offer.
As a conservation organization, we don’t necessarily agree with all the restrictions as currently written, but we understand the reasons for them. We also understand that the wildlife friendly community will be angered and frustrated by these restrictions.
Please understand–we are bound by our state’s guidance. If we violate the trust they have placed in us, we will lose our permits and will never be able to help any bat in the future, and we put our permanent education bats at risk of confiscation. We are very serious here. We will not take animals we are not allowed to take. And yes, every bat we have to turn away will break our hearts. For us, the one you are grieving over is multiplied by all the others people are calling about that we can’t help.
We ask that you PLEASE respect our rehabbers and wildlife and animal services partners as we struggle through this horrible time. Please try not to yell at us. Please don’t send angry emails to the state and local agencies. If you have questions about why this action was taken, you may contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries hotline at 1-855-571-9003. We are grateful to our state agency for consulting with us and letting us know this was coming and hearing our concerns. We are grateful to our urban and suburban animal services partners, who will bear the brunt of answering calls for downed bats and orphans. Please be gentle with them; they don’t like this any more than we do.
But also, pay attention to the science. If you have a reasonable and science based argument you can offer to public health and wildlife agencies, then by all means share. There is a position statement written by Bat World Sanctuary you might find helpful here. The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association has also published a position statement. There are several very good papers about bats and coronaviruses; interesting findings are here and here. And Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International and tireless advocate for bats has a resource page here. And some fine food for thought regarding zoonoses and treatment of our fellow animals is here.
Whatever you do, please bear in mind this is to protect our bats. Covid-19 did not “come from” bats, it did not originate in bats in its current form, but the science isn’t in to say how far this mutation has diverged from bat-related versions. It is similar enough to extant bat coronaviruses to suggest it could infect our bats, and it has already infected several zoo animals. There is reason for caution.
Please try to be kind. Everyone who has toiled to raise awareness of bats and protect our flying neighbors, who has worked closely with wild colonies, who has fought to protect caves and wild places, who has raised wee babies and fixed the starved and injured is shocked and brokenhearted. We are devastated to have watched WNS ravage our bats and now have all our hard work stopped dead.
We are hopeful that this stoppage is short lived and will be modified or lifted in short order, but for right now, please understand that we are hurting right along with you.
With deep regret,
Leslie Sturges, President