Washington, DC — Bat experts are desperately trying to persuade federal officials to move the last ten bats from a disastrous captive breeding program into rehabilitation so that they have a chance to recover, according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Only ten of the 40 healthy endangered Virginia big-eared bats collected by the Smithsonian Institution’s Conservation and Research Center (CRC) are still alive, although these ten are in poor health.
Citing mishandling by CRC, PEER has filed a formal complaint to revoke the Center’s permit issued by the Fish & Wildlife Service and to relocate the few survivors to a qualified sanctuary. The Fish & Wildlife Service gave CRC a grant to run this program in response to white-nose syndrome, a fatal disease that is threatening several eastern bat species with extinction, by establishing captive breeding populations. None of the Virginia big-eared bats (VBEB) in CRC custody have white-nose syndrome.
As it reviews the PEER complaint, the Fish & Wildlife Service has taken the position that moving the bats is ill-advised because it “would cause additional stress”, according to an agency spokesperson. This position is hotly disputed by, among others, Amanda Lollar, Founder and President of Bat World Sanctuary, the nation’s leading bat rehabilitation center. In a March 12, 2010 e-mail to the Fish & Wildlife Service official overseeing the ill-fated bat captive breeding program, Ms. Lollar writes:
“It also appears that, again without consulting bat care specialists, it has been declared that moving the bats will create additional stress. This is absurd…This is what bat care specialists do, we transfer sick and dying animals to bat care facilities and bring them back to heath. This can, and SHOULD, be done for the remaining 10 VBEB that are still alive.” (Emphasis in original)
Her message ends with this plea: “Those bats have suffered enough and deserve a chance to live…For the sake of those animals, just do the right thing one time, before it is too late.” (Emphasis in original)
In a public statement issued on March 15, 2010, the CRC attacked the bat expert it retained who blew the whistle on the problems. In her December 2009 report, Missy Singleton, the bat consultant, not only detailed deficiencies but accurately predicted the escalating mortality of the remaining bats over the ensuing months. CRC dismissed her input as “inconsistent and often unsupported” and insisted that by keeping the bats it is learning unspecified valuable lessons “to help develop the best animal husbandry practices and conservation protocols.”
“The only lessons learned from this lamentable episode are unprintable,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, noting that there are only 15,000 Virginia big-eared bats left in the wild. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service should not let its internal politics result in any more needless deaths of this remarkable and endangered species.”