Of Austin’s numerous quirky claims to fame, the colony of roughly 1.5 million bats that resides beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge might be its most well-known.
Though hundreds of people gather each night to witness the cloud of hungry Mexican free-tailed bats take flight, few people have heard of the group of dedicated volunteers who look out for the winged treasures when they inevitably run into trouble.
KVUE reports that Austin Bat Refuge is currently caring for about 100 bats. Summer is the non-profit organization’s busiest month, but co-founders (and married couple) Dianne Odegard and Lee Mackenzie couldn’t be happier doing what they love: rescuing and rehabilitating bats and educating the public along the way.
According to Odegard, a lot of the injured bats they deal with are the result of people hurting them out of fear—but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you come across a bat, simply leave it alone and call an expert. Nobody, neither human nor bat, has to get hurt.
“We do get bats with broken bones with regularity, sometimes from people swatting at them with objects when they become frightened and startled when a bat is in their space,” she said. “These bats are mostly juveniles coming in this time of year. They are not quite adult bats, they don’t really know exactly how to be a good bat yet and they get into trouble—with people, with buildings, all kinds of situations.”
Austin Bat Refuge works hard to release injured bats back into the wild and depending on the year and the types of bats they get in, it’s a goal they accomplish more than 50% of the time. And as for the bats that are not releasable? Well, they have a permanent home with Odegard and Mackenzie, of course!
Another big part of their work is dispelling myths surrounding these mysterious flying mammals. Like the fact that they’re essential to local ecosystems.
“Oh, they're the primary predator of night-flying insects. So, without them, we'd be overrun by mosquitos and moths and crop pests,” Mackenzie told KVUE. “They are highly beneficial, saving our farmers and us between $3-20 billion a year in crops that don't get ruined."
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For more information on all the good Austin Bat Refuge does, visit AustinBatRefuge.org and donate at AustinBatRefuge.org/donations.