By TODD GLASSCOCK
PARKER COUNTY – Tuesday afternoon artist Sarah Kennedy daubed in grass growing around a tree in a forest mural she’s been painting this past week at the new Bat World Sanctuary outside of Mineral Wells.
“It’s an enrichment item,” Kennedy said of the mural that stretches full-length along the walls outside the mesh inner flight enclosures at the new sanctuary at 501 Highpoint Road.
Kennedy, who flew in from New York this week, also volunteers with Bat World and illustrated founder Amanda Lollar’s children’s book, “Baby See-through.”
The forest looks like the perfect place for a bat to take flight, as are the inner flight enclosures, Lollar said. The new facility will serve as the bat rescue, rehabilitation and conservation group’s new home base.
Lollar said bats are worth rescuing because they are essential to the ecology, eating, for instance, insects that attack crops.
Once finishing touches are added to the new sanctuary, the bats the group is caring for now at their downtown Mineral Wells sanctuary will come to their new home in the next two to three weeks, she said.
The new facility will house a 42-foot by 36-foot flight area that will give healthy and rehabilitating bats space to experience an outdoor-like flight while still protected inside when, during temperate weather, 14-foot bay doors are opened. The doors will be covered with security gates and transparent zoo mesh to protect the bats and the sanctuary from mice and other critters.
Skylights and sun tubes will enhance the experience and provide natural light year round, she said. Additionally, the new facility will feature a bat rehab and recovery room, a kitchen and food preparation area as well as a shipping hall and offices.
Along with a new sanctuary, where they can heal and fly, the bats will have a “bat castle” where they can hang from the rafters, or if they are territorial males, make a stay ensconced in private nooks, she said. Within a few years up to 150,000 area bats should be living in the new habitat, once new bats begin to fly in.
The sanctuary receives primarily Brazilian free-tail – aka Mexican free-tail – bats, the most common bat in Texas, she said. People bring the bats in, but they also get injured bats that have been confiscated from the exotic animal trade and bats retired from research centers and zoos.
Some come in as former pets, though bats are not meant to be pets and rarely live more than one year as pets, she said. Otherwise, rescued bats, when rehabilitated, can have a lifespan of 25 years.
The free-tail bats are some of the most abundant mammals in the Western hemisphere, their populations concentrating in the southern half of the U.S. down through Mexico and Central America and into Brazil. Scientists have noted that one of the largest free-tail populations – about 20 million – live in the Brazen Cave near San Antonio.
Though bats are abundant, Lollar said, they are at risk of dying out, not only because their habitats are threatened, but diseases such as white nose syndrome, which effects their respiratory systems, are rapidly wiping them out. As much as 90 percent of bat populations have died across the U.S. because of the disease.
Lollar hopes the bat castle, which can be disinfected, will help alleviate the spread of the syndrome.
She said one of Bat World’s goals has been to clear downtown Mineral Wells of bats. Bats roost in several buildings downtown and the musky odor of guano can make a walk downtown in some spots nose-wrinkling.
The bat castle should draw the downtown roosts out to the country, she said.
She said the sanctuary benefits people as well as bats, helping the two mammal species coexist and allowing people to learn more about them.
“We are the only accredited bat sanctuary in the world,” she said, “and have been available for bat rescues for 20 years. We’re always available 24/7.”