Hurricane Harvey's putting bats at risk—but help is on the way

On Tuesday morning, Amanda Loller and three volunteers gathered up canoes, headlamps, and life jackets. Then they headed out into the floodwaters of Houston—to save bats.

A colony of 250,000 bats live under Waugh Bridge, right over the rising Buffalo Bayou. Some of them have escaped rising waters to perch on surrounding buildings, according to the Houston Chronicle. Others may not have been so lucky. When the winged creatures take off, they drop slightly before they start flying. As storm surges from Hurricane Harvey rise and the bayou gets closer to the bridge, some animals trying to flee are falling into the floodwaters instead.

Others, too cold and wet to fly, simply remain in harm's way. Several videos have surfaced showing volunteers scooping out bats from under the bridge.

“Some of the bats did manage to get out. Others were found dead,” says Melissa Meierhofer, a wildlife researcher at the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute. “Some were being saved. They looked pretty wet.”

See the wake of the storm: 

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Views from the ground: Hurricane Harvey
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Views from the ground: Hurricane Harvey
Photo shows runway at Houston's Hobby Airport completely flooded; both Houston's major airports closed amid #Harvey… https://t.co/ykGMt3ZSTh
A stunning image, encapsulating #Harvey & the catastrophic flooding in #Houston. A little boy & his monkey in Dicki… https://t.co/iX6qt4ROGK
An unbelievable but honest photo of nursing home residents waiting to get rescued in Houston. 😢 https://t.co/XtOXdjE7dZ
Rescue boats swerve around stranded cars in Dickinson. Harvey turning Houston metro area into a real life Waterworld https://t.co/pHOqaXCiPI
The rain will NOT stop. #abc13 #Houston #Harvey https://t.co/Wits6FH4eT
Fire ants form a protective island as they float out the #Houston flood https://t.co/UBORwAzA4R
Looking into downtown #Houston above Buffalo Bayou at Studemont. More rain still to come. #Harvey #HurricaneHarvery https://t.co/UAXHhRvYVO
#USCG Video: Coast Guard assess the aftermath of damage caused by #HurricaneHarvey during their search and rescue o… https://t.co/srY6cThvd4
This is what it looked like last time it stopped raining long enough to get a clear shot of the flooding… https://t.co/ksbpwj6xAf
The Bayou over by Hermann Park is full AF and the path we run under McGregor is 100% under water #Harvey… https://t.co/BOFQkooddf
League City, TX this morning. #Harvey https://t.co/3HBZP1kT7G
Praying for Meyerland area. #Harvey https://t.co/mEcWH869aw
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It might seem like a trivial concern in the wake of so much human suffering. But that attitude could come back to bite us: A dead bat is a bat that can no longer consume huge meals made of Houston's mosquitoes—mosquitoes that may lead to a proliferation of diseases after the flood. The colony at Waugh Bridge eats an estimated two and a half tons of insects every night. In the comments of a CBS video featuring a woman rescuing bats from the bridge with a net, several people expressed interest in helping the unlucky mammals.

On Monday, Texas Parks and Wildlife mammalogist Jonah Evans was at a loss for what people could do if they saw bats floating by and wanted to assist them. Civilians who deal directly with the bedraggled creatures are at risk for rabies—and once they get the animals out of the water, what can they do with them? All available personnel are helping with the human rescue efforts.

But now onlookers concerned with wildlife wellbeing have an option. Loller recommends they scoop the floating bats into a bucket or box with a long stick. Then they can call the Bat World Sanctuary, which is now on the scene, or contact them through Facebook. In addition to transport carriers, the team has syringes full of bat electrolytes and emergency food. All the volunteers have rabies vaccinations and are used to dealing with these animals.

The Mexican free-tailed bat is one of the most plentiful mammals on this continent, so the species as a whole will probably be fine. Bats in South Texas have not yet suffered significantly from white-nose syndrome, like their brethren in the eastern U.S. “There might be some population decline as a result of this, but they will likely bounce back pretty quickly,” says Evans.

And even though the population would probably recover eventually, the volunteer’s efforts will make a difference for individual bats. “Dogs, cats, birds. Everything needs to be rescued,” says Loller.

SEE: Texans take shelter from Harvey: 

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Taking shelter from Harvey
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Taking shelter from Harvey
Charlotte Mills reads her Bible in the warehouse at Gallery Furniture where she has been staying after evacuating her flooded home over the weekend, in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Volunteers with The American Red Cross register evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Evacuee Pete Quintana Jr. is wrapped in a blanket at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Evacuees fill an exhibition hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center where people have taken refuge in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Evacuees get some rest in the warehouse at Gallery Furniture which opened its doors to residents needing shelter, in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Evacuees Danielle White and her husband Lorenzo White wait to get into of the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Evacuees carry their belongings outside of the George R. Brown Convention Center where over 9,000 people have taken refuge, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
Jakobe Thomas plays with his sister Journey Thomas, 1, in the warehouse at Gallery Furniture where they have been staying after evacuating their flooded home over the weekend, in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
An evacuee is patted down as he is processed into the George R. Brown Convention Center where people have taken refuge, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A long line of cars wait to get into the Lakewood church which was designated as a shelter for Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston, Texas August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Evacuees are unloaded from the back of an open bed truck at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
A couple of evacuees carry their dogs into the the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain causing widespread flooding, in Houston, Texas, U.S. August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Oxford
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