TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Insectivorous Bats (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Handling and Transport which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Bechstein's bat - Myotis bechsteinii, Brandt's bat - Myotis brandtii, Brown long-eared bat - Plecotus auritus, Daubenton's bat - Myotis daubentonii, Greater horseshoe bat - Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, Grey long-eared bat - Plecotus austriacus, Large mouse-eared bat - Myotis myotis, Lesser horseshoe bat - Rhinolophus hipposideros, Noctule - Nyctalus noctula, Lesser noctule - Nyctalus leiseri, Nathusius' pipistrelle - Pipistrellus nathusii, Natterer's bat - Myotis nattereri, Northern bat - Eptesicus nilssoni, Particoloured bat - Vespertilio murinus, Pipistrelle - Pipistrellus pipistrellus, Serotine - Eptesicus serotinus, Western barbastelle - Barbastella barbastellus, Whiskered bat - Myotis mystacinus

The UK bat species are from the families Rhinolophidae, Vespertilionidae.

Capture:

  • Capture of bats in need of rescuing is normally easy, simply picking the bat off the ground or the surface it is clinging to. (B151)
  • Detach the bat's claws gently from the surface which it is holding before lifting it off, to avoid injury. 
  • Throwing a light cloth/small towel over the bat first may be useful to restrict its activity.(B123)
  • Small hand-held nets, with fine mesh or of light cloth, and preferably with a padded rim, may be used to catch bats e.g. in an enclosed space.
    • If possible, move the net in front of the bat so that the bat flies into it.
    • Avoid "swiping" at the bat and other rapid movements as these increase the risk of injuring the bat.
  • N.B. care must be taken when handling very small bats to avoid injuring them. (B151)

Holding:

Two grips are recommended for holding bats:

  • 1) Bat resting on the fingers, head held between the thumb and forefinger.
  • 2) Bat resting on the palm of the hand with the fingers over the body, such that the head may be held between the palm of the hand and the little finger.
  • (B168.7.w7)

Restraint for examination and treatment:

Bats are often torpid and relatively slow-moving when first presented for examination; this facilitates handling and physical examination. (J3.128.w1)

  • Manual restraint is generally sufficient for physical examination.
  • Bat may be held resting on the fingers, head held between the thumb and forefinger.
  • The wing nearest the distal ends of the fingers may be gently grasped over the first digit and the wing extended for examination.
    • Examination of the other wing may be carried out most easily if the bat is first transferred to the other hand.(B168.7.w7)
    • Holding in the standard position and stretching out a wing may allow venepuncture of the vein on the anterior edge of the wing between the carpus and the shoulder in larger bat species. (B123)
  • May also be held carefully with the last joint of the index finger along the back between the wings and the thumb and middle finger holding the wings closed by pinning the elbows against this finger, leaving the body free below. This technique may be useful for close examination.
    • N.B. appears to cause more distress to the bat.
    • There is a danger of straining the forearms and flight muscles.
    • (B168.7.w7, B10.43.w22)
  • General anaesthesia is required for any surgical procedure and may facilitate physical examination of very active or fractious bats.

General Anaesthesia and Sedation:

 Suggested protocols for sedation and general anaesthesia include:

  • Gaseous general anaesthesia is the method of choice.
    • General anaesthesia may be induced using a face mask or with the bat in an induction chamber.
    • "1.5 or 2.0 per cent halothane with oxygen produces good [general] anaesthesia". (J3.128.w1)
    • Isoflurane is usually considered preferable to halothane and currently the agent of choice. (V.w5)
  • Minimise the duration of general anaesthesia as far as possible.(V.w26)
  • Take precautions to reduce heat loss during general anaesthesia.
  • Consider using fluid therapy during general anaesthesia.
  • Starvation prior to general anaesthesia should not be performed in these species.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Catch only if necessary.
  • Handling of wild animals should be minimised.
  • Consider design of accommodation and timing of treatments to minimise requirements for capture and handling.
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate.
Notes
  • Bats are often torpid and relatively slow-moving when first presented for examination; this facilitates handling and physical examination. (J3.128.w1)
  • Bites from the smaller species of bats rarely pierce the skin. (B168.7.w7)
  • Light latex gloves are generally sufficient for handling. (D24)
  • Thin leather gloves may be useful particularly for the larger species.(B151, J3.128.w1)
  • Bare hands may be preferred by some handlers.
  • N.B. care must be taken in handling very small bats to avoid injuring them. (B151)
  • As with other small mammals, heat loss during general anaesthesia and surgery may be considerable and preventative measures to avoid this should be taken.
  • The use of fluid therapy during general anaesthesia and surgery should be considered as for other small mammals.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Bats use their delicate claws to grip uneven surfaces. Careful disengagement of the claws from the surface is important when picking up a bat to avoid limb damage.
  • All bats may bite.(J3.128.w1)
  • Bites from larger species such as Eptesicus serotinus - Serotine, Nyctalus noctula - Noctule and Rhinolopus ferrumequinum - Greater horseshoe bat are capable of breaking the skin and may be painful and sustained. (B151, B168.7.w7)
  • Extra care should be taken to avoid bites from moribund/obviously sick bats, due to the theoretical risk of Rabies. (B168.7.w7). (There was a single report (J3.147.w1) of a lyssa virus (European Bat lyssavirus 2) detected in a Myotis daubentonii - Daubenton's bat found unwell in the UK. Screening of 1882 bats of 23 species during a ten year survey (January 1986-December 1995) failed to detect rabies (J3.139.w1) Of more than 150 bats of various species tested for rabies in 1999, none were found to be positive (D49).
  • There is a risk of injuring these small mammals during capture and restraint, particularly if catching with a net.
    • The risk of injury to the bat is greatest when handling the smaller species.
    • The risk of injury from a net may be minimised by using a small, lightweight net with a padded rim.
  • Hypothermia, i.e. cooling of the bat, has been suggested for bat anaesthesia. This must never be used. While cooling reduces movement of the bat, it does not prevent the bat feeling pain. 
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate nets, gloves and cloths.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Good manual dexterity is useful for holding bats, particularly the smaller species.
  • Experience is advantageous for handling bats; a local licensed bat worker may be contacted for advice. Useful organisations include the Bat Conservation Trust and the London Bat Group.
Cost/ Availability
  • Appropriate nets may be available from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or some good pet stores; they may be relatively expensive.
  • Nets may also be constructed from readily-available and inexpensive materials.
  • Suitable cloths such as towels are widely available.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Risks to human health, both physical and risks of zoonotic illness, must be considered (Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974).
    • There is a theoretical risk of rabies from bats.
    • Extra care should be taken to avoid bites from moribund/obviously sick bats, due to this risk. (B168.7.w7)
    • It is important to remember that although the UK is "rabies free", rabies virus has been detected in a bat found in the UK (thought to have originated in France) (J3.147.w1)
  • All native British bats are listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence (Section 9) to "take" i.e. capture any animal on Schedule 5 of this Act. However, there is an exception (under Section 10) for a disabled animal which is taken "solely for the purpose of tending it and releasing it when no longer disabled." (W5.Jan01)
  • All bats are listed in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence (Section 9) to intentionally damage a bat roost or intentionally disturb a bat while it is within a roost. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 extended this protection of Schedule 5 species and their shelters such that it is an offence to "recklessly" damage a roost or disturb bats in the roost; causing disturbance by the deliberate taking of an unacceptable risk or failure to notice an obvious risk are now offences. (W65.w1, W66.w1)
  • All bats are listed in Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence (Section 11) to "take" (i.e. capture) any animal on Schedule 6 using a variety of methods (snares, traps etc.) including "any net". (W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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