Miami-Dade County

Zoo Miami tends to rare orphaned baby bat (w/video)

A rare baby Florida bonneted bat has a new home: a sleeping bag made out of a camera pouch at Zoo Miami.
A rare baby Florida bonneted bat has a new home: a sleeping bag made out of a camera pouch at Zoo Miami.

A rare, baby Florida bonneted bat has a new home: a sleeping bag made out of a camera pouch at Zoo Miami.

A Miami park ranger found the bat scurrying across grass and sidewalks at Shenandoah Park just north of Coconut Grove last month, said Frank Ridgely, a veterinarian and head of conservation and research at the zoo. The ranger captured the bat, which he named Bruce after the comic book caped crusader, and contacted wildlife rescue officials, who sent it to a rescue center in Fort Lauderdale.

A week later, after some confusion over whether the orphan was in fact an endangered bat protected by the Endangered Species Act, federal officials gave Ridgely permission to take over its care.

After a brief but unsuccessful effort by volunteers to track its mother, Ridgely began feeding the bat a milkshake of diluted goat’s milk and crushed bug guts mixed with high-protein powder.

“I want to see a trend of putting on weight,” he said.

So far, Bruce is responding, feeding well and remaining active: he spits out any disagreeable bug parts, snuggles in his camera bag and readily grooms when Ridgely tucks the bag into his shirt to warm him.

Because a juvenile bonneted bat has never been rehabbed, Ridgely can’t say how much longer the bat will need to nurse or when he will be ready to fly. A plan for the bat’s future will have to be worked out with federal wildlife officials, but Ridgely hopes to get him strong enough to be released.

Scientists aren’t sure how Bruce got separated from his mother but recent tree trimming could have disturbed its roost.

How Bruce grows and develops could provide key information about the endangered bats. Biologists know bigger bats need wide open areas like pine rockland to forage for large bugs. But they still lack key details about exactly what they eat and where they roost, information that could help better manage disappearing habitat.

Just finding the baby in November suggests the bats’ birthing season lasts longer than biologists had thought, meaning laws that protect their mating season may need to be adjusted, Ridgely said.

“I’ll certainly document everything I’m doing,” he said. “We can’t put him out even if we wanted to because he needs to nurse. That gives us all time to come up with a plan.”

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