Bats battle maligned mammal moniker
Admirers want to give them a flying chance
April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Jim Hill
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Bats in the belfry. Blind as a bat.
Going batty. With humans tossing around those pejorative
sobriquets, it's no wonder the soft, furry mammals are
getting, well, a bat rap.
(928K/23 sec. QuickTime movie)
Indeed, many of the 40 bat varieties in the United States are
believed to be but a step away from endangerment. And in a
few quarters, these much-misunderstood nocturnal fliers are
gaining a greater degree of appreciation.
For instance, the California Transportation Department now
tries to protect bat habitats when bridges are repaired. More
than 700 bridges in the state double as bat boudoirs.
"Biologists tell us that the expansion joints of our bridges
resemble their natural habitats in a lot of ways," says Pat
Reid of the transportation agency. "And so this has just
worked out really well for them."
Meanwhile, in Texas, the denizens of Austin have embraced
bats big time. Millions live under a city bridge and, as they
leave for work each evening to gobble down tons of pesky
insects, tourists come out to watch the show.
And when the U.S. Forest Service found that bats were living
in abandoned mine shafts in California's Angeles National
Forest, the rangers installed special iron gates to preserve
their new habitat.
"We tried to take measures that will mitigate the public
safety hazard by making it inaccessible to the public, [but]
at the same time providing continued access for the bats,"
says Shawna Bautista of the Forest Service.
Despite these forays into bat-people detente, bogus bat
One such myth is that they suck blood. Well, only the tiny
vampire bat of South America behaves in such a biting manner,
and even that sucking cousin doesn't bother humans. Another
tale is that bats carry rabies. True, but no more than any
Actually, what bats do most is eat bugs -- many times their
own weight each night.
"They're kind of magical and beneficial, and they're really
underdogs," says Diana Simons, a bat expert. "People don't
know a lot about them."
After centuries of bad press, bats have a long way to go in
getting the respect they deserve. But at least there are now
a growing number of projects to help them increase their
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