This is Eddie. She was found early one morning in November hanging on the fence surrounding the children’s playground in the Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy, Melbourne. The lovely person who found her was a doctor taking her little boy to play. She phoned Wildlife Victoria’s Emergency Response Service, who organised for someone to collect the baby bat. When I arrived I wrapped Eddie in a cloth and carefully detached her little feet from the fence. We wrap baby bats in a “mumma roll”, a soft roll with a wrap that mimics, as much as we can, the safe embrace of a mother bat. We also give the baby a little pacifier or dummy as this is very comforting to them. Baby bats are almost constantly attached to mum’s nipple.
So how did Eddie find herself on a fence without her mother? Eddie was quite a big baby, already about 5 weeks old. Normally mother bats leave babies this size together in a crèche tree when they fly out to forage. Sometimes babies make it very difficult for mothers to leave them behind, clinging on for dear life – “mum don’t leave me!”. I think sometimes mothers just cannot get baby off, so they fly out to forage with the too-heavy bundle clinging onto the undercarriage. So this night I think what happened was that Eddie would not be left behind, and during mum’s foraging in the gardens, she lost her grip and fell to the ground. Her mother would have tried desperately to retrieve her. Flying fox mothers only have one baby a year and are devoted to their young. A flying fox can only take off from some height, so will not voluntarily go onto the ground. Eventually, with day dawning, Eddie’s mum would have reluctantly left her and flown back the Yarra Bend camp shared by thousands of bats in the daytime. Eddie, meanwhile has crawled across the open ground until she found something vertical she could climb up. In this case, a wire fence.
Once home I checked Eddie for any injuries. Wings – no broken bones or tears in the wings. Little legs looked fine, thumbs intact, no abrasions on her head or body. She must not have fallen from any great height and was very alert. Having warmed her up on a heat pad it was time to give the little one a drink. We start with some water with a little glucose and once they are warm and rehydrated we offer them milk via a little bottle with a teat especially shaped for baby flying fox mouths. It usually takes a few goes for them to get used to the rubber teat. It’s not really like mum’s nipple! The first 24 hours were difficult. Little Eddie was inconsolable and cried incessantly for her lost mother. Neither of us got much sleep that night. The next morning Eddie started to think I might be acceptable as a foster mum and our daily routine was established. Cleaning little wings, changing soiled mumma rolls, providing daily sunshine, cuddles and regular feeds.
We like to raise baby flying foxes in pairs so that they learn to interact with other bats from an early age. This is important for their future ability to integrate into a flying fox community. These orphans are not pets and we need to raise them to become wild bats with all the skills they will need to survive in the wild.
So Eddie had Monty as her friend. Monty was found in Montmorency in similar circumstances. He was a bit bigger than Eddie, but she would never let him boss her around and was pretty feisty when they engaged in “thumb boxing”, using their thumb claws.
Once the babes are about 6 weeks old they start to hang on a clothes airer where they can learn to hang, climb and flap. We give them eucalyptus blossoms from an early age, and at 9 weeks they are introduced to fruit. At 12 weeks they are weaned and once they can fly “from airer to carer” my job as foster mother is done. Eddie and Monty were ready for the next stage of their journey back to the wild. It was time for them to go to bat school.
The bat school is a large flight aviary at the Fly By Night Bat Clinic where my babies and 20 other young ones could form a social group and forget about their human foster mums. They also have space to safely build their flying skills and a few adult bats in rehabilitation to teach them about respecting their elders.
At the end of February it was time for the next stage of release and the young were transported to a soft-release facility within a flying fox camp. This is another large aviary, but now the young ones can see, hear and smell the wild bats. Eddie by this stage has forgotten me completely, which is just as it should be. After a week, we opened the hatch and the first night they all moved out into the trees and joined the wild bats. We provided fruit each night for a few weeks, support feeding them while they gained skills at flying and foraging for their own food. After 6 weeks, they are fully integrated into the bat community. They are wild bats. They are free. And I am ready to take another batch of babies when baby bat season rolls around again next November.
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