While people may be inclined to run like a bat out of hell at the thought of encountering a furry mammal with wings, bats are not an uncommon sight on campus, according to Carin Peterson, training and outreach manager of UT’s Animal Make Safe program.
“There are bats living here,” Peterson said. “Up in the roofs of the older buildings there are some small populations of bats and all throughout downtown Austin, that’s not unusual … We’re part of the largest population of bats in the country. We have a lot here.”
Animal Make Safe, a program within the Environmental Health and Safety department, responds to certain animal incidents on campus, Peterson said, including those involving bats.
“Generally, we get calls for about 200 to 250 animals per year, and a good 75 percent of those are regarding bats,” Peterson said.
Peterson said there are a variety of species of bats on campus, but the Mexican free-tailed bat is the most common, totaling to about 98 percent of campus bat sightings. Peterson said occasionally a tri-colored bat or a yellow bat will find its way onto the 40 Acres.
Kylee DeLafuente, a former lifeguard at Gregory Gym, said she found a bat on the pool deck during one of her shifts.
“We were opening up the leisure and event pool … and laying on the concrete was a fuzzy creature,” DeLafuente said. “Me and the head lifeguard at the time went up to it, and we thought it was dead because it was just laying there. We were just hovering over it and then the bat took off flying. I was screaming and running.”
Students familiar with the practice of offering snacks to the overly friendly squirrels on campus may be inclined to interact with a bat they find, but Peterson said individuals should avoid coming into physical contact with a bat.
“Bats are considered to be high rabies risk animals in Texas,” Peterson said. “That doesn’t mean every bat you see has rabies. Actually, a very small percentage of the bats do, but if there is a bat in an area where you can come into contact with it, chances are there may be something wrong with that bat.”
Peterson said in the rare event a student is exposed to rabies, there are options for treatment.
“Rabies is very, very rare,” Peterson said. “Luckily in the United States we have rabies vaccines so if a person were to have contact with a bat and get bit by them, they would go through a series of vaccinations that would protect them.”
Michael Shelley, owner of T-X Wildlife Pro, a private animal control company, said people are often uninformed when it comes to dealing with bats.
“They’re relatively harmless,” Shelley said. “They don’t drink your blood — not around here at least. I would say most bat interactions happen when people try to handle animals that they’re not comfortable handling.”
Laura Finn, founder of Fly By Night Inc., a nonprofit bat conservation organization, said her conservation efforts consist primarily of educating the public about bats and how to safely handle them in buildings.
“Everybody seems to think that bats are sick and that you’re going to get some disease from them and that they’re something to be afraid of,” Finn said. “If people knew the facts then they wouldn’t be afraid of them.”