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South Africa has 56 recorded species of bats. Of the 74 species found in the sub-region of southern Africa, 20 species of insectivorous bats and 2 species of fruit-eating bats are listed as Threatened in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Of these 9 are listed as either Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable, meaning that they face a high risk of extinction in the wild.
Because bats have low reproductive rates, populations are very susceptible to elevated mortality or depressed recruitment. There is scientific concern about the conservation status of bats as many species of bats are increasingly affected by multiple actions of humans such as ignorance, suspicion, pesticide poisoning, roost destruction and closure, habitat loss, over-exploitation, and extermination as pests. Avoid disturbance of bats in caves, including the lighting or use of fires in caves.
Some bats have moved into residential areas because human expansion has resulted in the loss of habitat, forcing bats to look for alternative roosts in which to live and raise their young.
An uncontrollable, irrepressible fear of bats may exist, but it is often the result of centuries of prejudice, misinformation and ignorance about bats. Dracula and other horror stories have contributed greatly to these misconceptions causing people to fear them and therefore be unconcerned about their conservation.
Although bats are extremely beneficial and help maintain balance in our delicate ecosystem, there are times when bats become a problem or nuisance to home or business owners. An understanding of the habits of these beneficial animals can help solve problems that sometimes develop when bats roost in buildings. Bats living in buildings do not cause structural damage nor do they chew on wires or wood.
Hiring an exterminator or “doing it yourself” may seem like a simple solution. Consider these thoughts before attempting any exterminating:
There is little reason to evict bats from buildings where they are not causing a nuisance. However, bats should be prevented from entering human living quarters and in some instances, noise or odours from large colonies of bats can become a nuisance.
It is best to evict and implement exclusion methods in South Africa between February and May.
In winter during hibernation. They won’t be able to fly far to find new roosts, cannot forage and due to exposure, will die.
During the maternity period from middle September to the end of December. This is when new babies are born and nursed by their mothers. Babies can’t fly and if you evict the adults, the babies being trapped inside, will die and create an odour problem.
One is that exclusion can be stressful for a maternity colony. When prevented from using their usual roost, the bats may move into a nearby building, where they may be expelled again, or even exterminated. Also, research has shown that displaced colonies will not relocate into buildings that already house other maternity colonies. In other words, an excluded colony cannot just move down the road into a barn or church that already has bats. If a displaced colony cannot find a new roost, it may leave the area. In fact, researchers have found that expelling bat colonies can contribute to serious declines in local bat populations.
A second drawback is that homeowners may find it difficult to bat-proof their home completely. Bats can crawl through cracks as small as 0.5 – 1cm, so persistent bats may find a way to re-enter their former roost.
Bat boxes can solve both of these problems because they provide alternative roosting sites for maternity colonies. When constructed properly, bat boxes can serve as suitable places for females to raise their pups. With bat boxes, the bats get a safe roosting site outside the home, while homeowners benefit from the bats’ control of insects.
Many people come across young, injured or grounded bats and wonder what to do with them. Care and caution should be exercised and such cases should be referred to the nearest bat interest group, rehabilitation centre or the SPCA.
It must be stressed that bats should not be handled by the general public.
A bat found indoors is most likely to be a crevice-dwelling species. These bats are often lost youngster or babies that cannot fly or migrating bats that do not know how to find their way outdoors. They may be roosting somewhere in a small part of your home, most likely up high, like a crawl space, attic or perhaps between the crawl space roof.
Bats that are in good health should be released as soon as possible (during dusk) and as close to their area in which they were found as possible. If a bat has simply fallen out of its roost after being disturbed, it can be placed straight back into the roost. Bats cannot take off directly from the floor but need to be able to drop down for a distance before beginning to fly.
With acknowledgement to the Gauteng and Northern Regions Bat Interest Group (http://www.batsgauteng.org.za/)