<!-- IMAGE -->
Americans and many other people around the world are celebrating Halloween on Saturday. Part of the fun is watching scary movies in which bats often play a big role. But their defenders say bats are actually shy and gentle animals that provide many benefits to mankind.
The bat lady
Leslie Sturges loves bats.
So much so that she has converted her house into a shelter for bats in need of care. With the help of her husband, Rich, and a team of volunteers, Leslie operates Bat World NOVA, the Northern Virginia chapter of Bat World Sanctuary, a U.S. group dedicated to ending the unnecessary killing of bats.
"We have a tendency to treat them very badly because they're small, dark and nocturnal and we don't understand them," Leslie says, "So I think if people understood them more, there'd be a lot more tolerance for bats. They do so much for us."
Sherry Keen is Leslie's apprentice and a volunteer at Bat World NOVA. She helps Leslie nurse and rehabilitate injured bats. Sherry says that a typical rescue situation starts with a desperate phone call from someone who discovers a bat in the house. She says, like any other injured or wild animal, a bat may react unpredictably in a rescue effort, and the safety of the rescuer is of paramount importance.
"We reiterate over and over again: never touch it with bare hands," Sherry said.
Their bad reputation and myths about bats
<!-- IMAGE -->
Leslie thinks that the bat's bad reputation is due in part to their depiction in Hollywood movies. "You know they land on people and they bite them and they suck all their blood out -- and that's just an impossibility and it doesn't happen," Leslie asserts, "and it's never happened but it's sort of cemented in the public mind that this is what bats do and it's totally wrong."
In addition to her rehabilitation work, Leslie also conducts education programs, aimed at teaching people, particularly children, about the many benefits that bats have to offer.
A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect farmers from up to 33 million or more corn rootworms each summer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a single little brown bat can catch more than 1,200 insects in one hour. Sherry believes teaching children about bats is the best way to spread the good news about them.
The benefits of educating people about bats
"If we can start them young, a lot of times the kids can start educating their parents," Sherry said.
Teaching them, among other things, that bats are not blind. Most can see as well as humans. Nor are bats flying mice. In fact there is evidence that bats may be more closely related to humans than to mice.
"Another myth is that all bats carry disease. Bats are actually very clean animals," Leslie says, "They groom constantly. They groom each other. They're very gentle animals."
Leslie believes that it's important that people get involved with bat rescue on a global scale but advises those who are interested to first check local wildlife regulations. Further information can be found at the Bat World Sanctuary web site. Leslie stresses, however, that the number one thing that people can do for bats is to leave them alone.
And Sherry offers this bit of advice. "Help us save them," she says, "Don't kill them. Be good to them."