Media & Education
News Room

Volume 9, Issue 2, Summer 1991

Bats Driven from the University of Arizona

By Belwood, Jacqueline J.


Last fall BCI was notified that a large number of bats had been killed on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Mostly Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), they roosted in the expansion joints that run the length of the university's large concrete football stadium. Although the bats had roosted there for years, they only were considered a problem when a new outdoor restaurant was built directly under their roost.

University personnel sprayed carbon dioxide from a fire extinguisher to drive the bats away, and a local licensed pest control operator later applied a sticky bird repellent to the crevices. The carbon dioxide both froze and suffocated the animals, and the bird repellent permanently glued the wings of the remaining bats to their bodies. Reports varied on how many were actually killed. The incident sparked a loud public outcry against the inhumane methods used and even inspired national mention in Sports Illustrated.

Most bird repellent "glues" contain the pesticide polybutene, which, when used against bats, violates federal law. BCI reported misuse of a pesticide in the incident to the Environmental Protection Agency, which prompted a thorough investigation by the Arizona Structural Pest Control Commission. As a result, the pest control operator received a heavy fine. The case against the University of Arizona, on another related charge, is still pending.

Although bats make good neighbors by eating half their weight or more in insects every night, they can sometimes become a nuisance in homes and buildings. Under these circumstances, they can be removed from the specific areas where they are a problem [see Profiles, page 14]. The important point to note is that safe, permanent, non-lethal, and legal methods to achieve this have been known for years. In sharp contrast to the University of Arizona incident, the University of Florida at Gainesville is solving a similar stadium-bat problem by safely excluding the bats and providing them with an alternate roost in the form of a huge bat house. The University of Arizona incident is regrettable for several reasons. First, the bats were killed unnecessarily. Second, although the university boasts at least four bat biologists, none was contacted for advice. Finally, taxpayer money was wasted in the two-month-long investigation of an avoidable incident.

Arizona has some 28 species of bats--the second largest number of bat species in the U.S. Despite this, educational materials about Arizona's bats, which include at least six species of special concern, have yet to be assembled by the state's non-game program. Many other states routinely distribute such materials.

On the bright side, the events that transpired at the University of Arizona have resulted in lengthy discussions between BCI and the Arizona Game and Fish Division to produce educational materials about the importance of bats. These will be geared toward the general public and local pest control operators. It is hoped that, with education, incidents such as the one that occurred at the University of Arizona can be prevented in the future.
--Jacqueline J. Belwood

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