This Woman Has Saved Thousands Of Baby Bats

She cares for dozens of orphans in her own home, swaddling them in blankets and hand feeding them.

IN THE 11 years since Denise Wade has been rehabilitating flying foxes, she estimates she's cared for thousands.

Give or take a hundred or two every year, she says an annual count hovers at around 400.

"I'm in deep now," she says.

Despite having cared for so many flying foxes, she still remembers her first one, an orphan named Amber.

"I still have her photo in my wallet," she says. "And I have a photo of her on my fridge."

Wade isn't a veterinarian or a wildlife official by profession. Instead, she volunteers for Bat Conservation Rescue Queensland.

In Rochedale South in the south of Queensland (outside Brisbane), she lives on a suburban block, where she takes care of the flying foxes in her own home. Her backyard contains a small aviary where recovering bats can practice flying. She hangs mangos and other fruits from strings to simulate foraging behaviours in the wild.

For the nearly 300,000 people who follow her on Facebook and the 27,000 following her on YouTube, Wade's living room might be the most recognisable. That's where she hand-raises orphan bats, swaddling them in towels and giving them bat-shaped pacifiers to suckle.

The flying foxes, with their large eyes, fat cheeks, and perky ears, rack up anywhere from a few thousand to a million views per clip. Many viewers comment that the injured animals bear resemblance to dogs, and others say they didn't know bats could be so cute.

"Unfortunately, there is a lot of euthanasia in this job," says Wade. What her viewers don't see, she says, is just how gruesome rescuing flying foxes can be.

Bats at Risk

Many of the orphans in her home are found after their mothers have been electrocuted by power lines or attacked by dogs. Some of the more disturbing injuries occur when the bats get trapped on barbed wire fences. The most common, however, comes from protective netting hung around fruit trees.

Recently, the bats have been dropping by the hundreds. In the sweltering 46-degree Celsius heat wave covering parts of Australia, many bats roosting on trees without leaf cover are struggling to cope with the heat. The younger ones, and the most vulnerable, are dropping to their deaths.

Some biologists describe the effect as akin to the bats boiling alive.

That is keeping flying fox caregivers extra busy.

Sarah Curran has been rescuing flying foxes with Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services. Like Wade, she cares for them in her home and has dozens currently being treated for heat exhaustion.

"The camp I was at didn't lose as many dead compared to others, but a fair few were saved," she noted earlier this week. Hundreds around Sydney alone had been collected over the weekend, and wildlife conservationists predict thousands could die before the summer's end.

In 2014, an estimated 45,000 died from the heat.

The Dangers of Heat Exhaustion

When the hot bats come into Curran's care, they're triaged. Only those that can be saved are treated. They're then cooled, given fluids and glucose, and monitored in cages.

"I responded to a similar event at the same location in 2013," says Curran. "And each year since, there have been heat stress events with varying degrees of casualties."

Predictions for Australia's warming climate give little hope that cooler summers are in the future. In 2016, the country released a State of the Climate report that found heatwaves increased in frequency and intensity since 1970. A study published last October predicted summer temperatures could hover around 122 degrees by 2040.

On a more visible level, deforestation has ramped up in Australia in the past decade, particularly in Queensland, where Wade finds bats who are injured.

Flying foxes are also called fruit bats after their primary source of food. As a species, they serve an important role as pollinators, but their constant search for fruit has also led them into dangerous conflicts with people. Camps (also called colonies) of flying foxes can range anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands.

"Flying foxes like to live where people like to live," Wade says, and increasing urbanization means suburbs will see more-and-more bats.

In December, a large colony of flying foxes, estimated to be 200,000 strong, took roost in a Queensland community. The town said it was of "plague proportions" and reported being burdened by the bats' faeces and hunger for the fruit on their trees.

Wade knows she can't singlehandedly combat deforestation or reverse warming trends, but she does hope she can convince at least a few people to be more sympathetic to what she sees as one of Australia's most important species.

"I don't put up the gruesome stuff," she says. She instead puts up adorable bat photos she hopes will make people love them as much as she does.

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