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Main Content

Safe Haven | Winter 2015 Out Here Magazine

By David Frey

Photography courtesy of Bat World Sanctuary

They’re furry. They fly. They love to play and climb. They rid the skies of insects and pollinate the crops we love. They’re endangered, despised, and creepy to some. But not to Amanda Lollar, who has dedicated her life to championing and saving the world’s bats.

“I love them,” says Lollar, founder of Bat World Sanctuary, a refuge and rehabilitation center for bats based in Weatherford, Texas, where she keeps a ’round-the-clock watch on some 200 bats. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

It wasn’t always like that. Back in 1988, Lollar wasn’t much of a fan of bats. She thought they were dirty vermin: rats with wings. But when she saw an injured bat sizzling on a hot Texas sidewalk in the summer, she felt sorry for the little creature. She had to rescue it.

“I didn’t want to see her suffer,” Lollar says.

Lollar, using safety measures to protect herself, took the bat back to the furniture store she and her mother ran, put the bat in a box, gave it a dead roach, a slice of apple, and a little water, and she went to the library to do some research.

Finding Sanctuary

The bat she found was a Mexican free-tailed bat, one of the most common bats in Texas. She named the tiny creature Sunshine.

“She was the opposite of everything I thought I knew about bats,” Lollar says.

To Amanda, bats weren’t dirty. They were fastidiously clean, smart, curious, and playful. They weren’t blind, either. Sunshine recognized Lollar. She figured out when it was dinnertime. And she loved to climb.

“It was like trying to take care of a two-inch monkey with wings,” Lollar says.

Sunshine survived. And Lollar set about trying to save more like her. Six years later, she closed the furniture store and opened the nonprofit Bat World Sanctuary in its place.

She started taking in bats from across the country that wouldn’t survive in nature on their own. Bats came in from research facilities, zoos, and rescues from the exotic pet trade. Some were orphaned. Some had injuries from which they’d never recover. They found a safe haven with Lollar.

Bat World Sanctuary cares for as many as 300 bats a year, bats native to exotic places around the world. At its new facility in nearby Cool, Texas, some 200 bats live out lives as long as 25 years in darkened rooms filled with flight enclosures where they can swing on rope swings and play with bells, stuffed animals, and cat toys.

Most come from the United States, but some have come from Canada and as far away as England.

Lollar has trained more than 400 bat rehabilitators across the country and around the world, including China, South Africa, and Brazil, to help others take in injured bats.

Essential To Nature

Lollar also has worked to raise awareness of the importance bats play in the ecosystem.

“It’s important to know what bats are like, just as we need to know why we need a clean ocean,” Lollar says. “Why do we need to keep pollutants out of the air? It all comes back to us. Bats contribute an enormous amount to our environment. We really don’t know how much they do for us.”

Vampire bats get all the notoriety, but of the 1,100 species of bats in the world, they make up just three. Most bats are insect eaters. Bats such as Sunshine, the Mexican free-tail, gobble up flying termites and ants, moths, gnats, and flies. Big brown bats eat corn borers and wasps.

“Just in Texas alone, insect-eating bats will eat over 600,000 tons of insects in a summer,” Lollar says.

But bats are also a bit like honeybees, too. They pollinate crops. In other parts of the world, fruit bats spread seeds. Mangos. Kiwis. Almonds. Figs. All owe their lives to bats, Lollar says. “We’re really going to be in trouble if they disappear.”

And that’s a problem, she says. More than half the world’s bat species are either on the endangered species list or are candidates for it. The cutting down of rainforests has destroyed bat habitats. So has damage to caves where they live. A mysterious disease called white nose syndrome is killing hibernating bats in North America.

Some people may find them creepy. Scary. Weird. Lollar used to think so, too. Now she finds them loveable. Adorable. And she’s dedicated her life to saving them.

“They do an enormous service for humans,” she says, “just by doing their part for Mother Nature and the world.”

Lollar’s just trying to return the favor.