Meet Louise, a bat educator and advocate in Australia. Louise has cared for thousands of sick and injured flying-foxes and other bat species
Name: Louise Saunders
Title: Flying-fox subcommittee co-conveyor
Organization: Australasian Bat Society
What is your focus in bat conservation?
My focus in bat conservation is to fight for their protection and their welfare. I see many of our iconic wildlife of Australia being celebrated in all forms of media and question why bats are not heralded as the superstars of our wildlife family. Looking at our entire wildlife family and the services our Aussie bats provide for not only our environment but also our humanity, there is no doubt bats play the most important role of all.
Through media and political propaganda, the lack of factual information and education about the role of bats, bats are too often seen by communities as the villains, as dirty disease carrying pests. I see them as amazing wildlife worthy of our adoration, yet they are real underdogs with few people fighting for their rights and for animal justice. I wish more people would champion their cause and help us fight for their welfare, conservation and protection.
What is your proudest moment in your conservation career?
I’m very fortunate to have had not just a moment but seven years to be proud of. Newly discovered viruses, the Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra virus were constantly in the headlines in Australia and on the lips of politicians. There was no balance in any media reporting and people were becoming afraid. Bats were suffering because of the lack of understanding or positive media.
In 2007 everything was getting worse for our Australian bats so I knew we needed to do more. As founder and president of Bat Conservation & Rescue Qld Inc and with help from others we built a very successful rescue and care organization. But we did more than just care of sick and injured bats, we tried to make a difference to the lives of bats where ever and whenever possible. Our fruit bats are often caught in netting used to cover fruit trees, so we initiated the use of small aperture netting in one of the largest chain of garden stores in Australia. We also educated the public with a fabulous video we made, we did talks for schools and other organizations and we liaised with media and government officials to try to improve the lives of bats.
One special moment was taking our education Black flying-fox named Gilbert to make a presentation to the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Farmers in Australia were allowed to shoot flying-foxes to try to stop them from raiding commercial fruit crops. We were demonstrating how the use of shotguns was not humane. Gilbert kindly demonstrated how small a flying-fox head and heart is and would make a difficult target for a clean and swift kill by fruit growers. He also when prompted spread his massive wings to show how vulnerable his long, delicate finger bones were to be maimed and broken. He showed that if shot in the dark, he, his cousins and their babies, could be left to suffer over many days before death. Gilbert was instrumental in helping Dr Carol Booth champion the ban on shooting flying-foxes in Queensland in 2008. We had a great celebration and Gilbert had mango for dinner. Sadly damage mitigation permits were returned by the next incoming government in 2012. We now have another new government in 2015 and sadly we need to fight for flying-fox welfare and stop the shooting of bats all over again. Gilbert will always hold a special place in my heart. He made a difference in the lives of bats too, a true hero.
If you could have one incredible animal adaptation, what would it be?
If I could fly like so many people have tried over the ages, this would be the most amazing animal adaption, to be able to swoop, glide, swerve and fly would be incomparable. In fact I think a bat has every perfect adaption, wings to soar, ability to hear in sonar, legs that swivel at the hips, a tongue to reach the sweetest of rewards, a warm leathery skin cloak, toenails as toothpicks and such unique faces that ignite the imagination of the onlooker. Bats have the best adaptations, so much better than we humans! I watch them fly back into the colony at dawn, so masterful, they truly love to fly! You can see it on their beautiful faces.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in bat conservation?
The best advice I can give is to go along to bat talks and lectures, listen to people who are knowledgeable about bats. Read books about bats, watch documentaries, become a sponge. Visit bat colonies (quietly on the fringes) bats in rehabilitation, any place you can watch their quirky behavior, listen to their language and marvel at their upside-down world. Get your rabies vaccinations, raise a baby and look after the injured, there is nothing like the up close and personal experience to feel love, compassion and a will to help these maligned animals. To know them completely and to understand their needs is the best way to become a dedicated bat conservationist.
How have you been involved with Bat Conservation International?
I was a member for many years before I became fully involved in Australia. I was lucky enough to have my art work chosen for special BCI member and donor rewards. The postcards were from paintings of bats and packaged in beautiful green cello envelopes. I’m not sure if they are still being produced, I hope so. I would love to be able to create more bat merchandise to help bats worldwide.