Deana Clifford, DFG Wildlife Investigations Lab, (916) 358-2378
Scott Osborn, DFG Wildlife Branch, (916) 324-3564
Kirsten Macintyre, DFG Communications, (916) 322-8988
Despite a reported increase in the number of bats testing positive for rabies in parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, biologists say there is no cause for alarm. The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) advises that rabies in bats is rare – affecting less than one percent of the state’s entire bat population – and as long as basic precautions are followed, the few afflicted bats are highly unlikely to pass the disease to humans.
“Although bats get a bad rap in folklore, humans are actually a bigger threat to them than they are to us,” said DFG Associate Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford. “Bats provide great benefits to humans, including insect control and plant pollination, but people tend to overlook the important role they play in our ecosystem. By being ‘bat smart’ and not disturbing or touching bats, people can help ensure the survival of the species, which will ultimately be to our benefit as well.“
Statistically speaking, the risk of contracting rabies from a bat is far less than the risk of dying from a bicycle accident, lightning strike or dog attack. To minimize the risk of contracting the disease, never pick up grounded bats as those animals are likely sick. People who have come into contact with a bat or have found a sick or dead bat should contact their local health department or animal control department. Also be sure to keep your pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
Depending on the species and the time of year, bats can be found roosting in groups or individually in caves, mines, crevices, under bridges and in tree hollows. People are most likely to see bats at dusk, when they emerge from their roosts to seek water and their insect prey.
People may also encounter bats in buildings, where warm, quiet attic space is available for them to raise their young. If a building owner can’t accommodate bats, the best solution for humans and bats alike is to humanely exclude them from their building roost after they’ve finished raising their young. That way, the bats can find other roosts in future years and continue to keep the insect population under control. Installation of appropriately designed “bat boxes” can help give bats a place to roost that is away from your home.
All bats are protected species in California. Many species of bats worldwide are experiencing population declines, mainly due to human disturbance and loss of habitat. A new threat to bats in North America is White Nose Syndrome (WNS), which has been reported among hibernating bats in several American states in the east and is spreading toward the west coast. WNS has killed more than one million bats in the affected region, and some bat species may be at risk of extinction due to this emerging deadly disease.
WNS does not pose a risk to human health, but can be carried on clothing and gear taken into affected caves and mines. DFG and other agencies are preparing for the potential spread of WNS into California, which may include precautions to reduce the risk of human-caused introduction or spread to unaffected bat hibernation sites.
If you want to learn more about what you can do to promote bat conservation, visit Bat Conservation International’s website at www.batcon.org.