I recently had the chance to volunteer at the Tolga Bat Hospital, which was a great experience and a nice complement to my field work. Located in Atherton, Queensland, the bat hospital provides care for injured, ill, and orphaned megabats and microbats in the Far North QLD region (and sometimes further away). There is also a visitor center associated with the bat hospital which allows tourists and local citizens alike to learn about and observe bats. Jenny Maclean, with the help of volunteers, runs the facility and has done so for the past 25 years. This work requires an incredible commitment of time and energy; the bats are lucky to have such a champion as Jenny.
During my week at the bat hospital, I helped with a variety of tasks. But since my experience is with flying foxes, I spent most of my time in their enclosure. There are about 100 adult flying foxes held in permanent care, often due to injuries that leave them unable to fly, or other conditions that would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild (i.e. blindness, cleft palate). Many activities revolved around feeding the bats--chopping and stringing up apples, hanging bird feeders packed with banana, filling small containers with banana smoothie and chunks of soft fruit, and hanging bottles of fruit juice supplemented with nutritional pudding. The bats subscribe to the philosophy of "easy come, easy go," so the remains of all of this food have to be cleaned up each morning. The copious amounts of spats (chewed, discarded mouthfuls of fruit that have had the juice sucked out), feces, and urine are scraped up and distributed into on-site worm farms. Then everything is hosed down, clean and ready for the bats to make a new mess. They get great room service!
From 3-6pm, the visitor center is open for tours. A tour starts with a video introducing the work that goes on at the bat hospital, and then continues with a trip around to see all the bat enclosures (microbats, juvenile flying foxes, adult flying foxes, and the nursery). I was able to lead the flying fox portions of the tour. Normally I find public speaking to be stressful because I don't like when everyone's attention is focused on me. In this case, visitors were usually so engrossed by the bats that they only paid peripheral attention to me. Invariably during a tour at least one of the flying foxes would demonstrate their habit of flipping right side up (hanging with their thumb claws) to urinate/defecate, which always caused excitement.