In Houston this week, relief workers are working around the clock to get people and animals in the flooded city to safety. One group in particular, the Bat World Sanctuary, has come to the aid of the massive colony of bats who make the city their home.
For years, Houston has been home to a colony of 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats who lived under the Waugh Bridge, over the Buffalo Bayou. It’s a popular place for people to gather and watch the bats emerge at sunset. This bat colony is unique in Texas in that they are the largest colony to reside in the state year-round, rather than migrating south for the winter.
On Sunday, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Houston residents, spotting the struggling creatures (bats can tread water but cannot swim) tried to fish the bats out using whatever they had at hand—tree limbs, tennis rackets, and umbrellas, according to CBS News. By Tuesday, Bat World, located in Weatherford, Texas, had deployed volunteers equipped with long-handled nets—and, more importantly, rabies shots—to Houston.
Saving bats might seem frivolous in light of the human suffering in Houston right now, but the bats play an important role in controlling Houston’s mosquito population, which is incredibly important to the long-term health of the city’s residents. According to the city, working together, Houston’s bats—each of which can live for 13 years— eat two and a half tons of insects every night.
"They’re eating 1,000 bugs an hour, 6,000 bugs a night,” Bat World founder Michelle Camara told CBS News. An increased mosquito population problem—and the possibility of an increase in mosquito-borne illnesses— is one of the many problems the city will struggle with once the floodwaters of Harvey recede. “Take away those bats, you're going to be in big trouble," Camara said.
“Many of bats only needed emergency fluids and food and thankfully recovered enough so they can be released tonight,” volunteers wrote on Bat World’s Facebook page. “Over 70 need critical care. Some of the bats have broken wings and are receiving antibiotics, pain medication and food. They will come back to us for lifetime sanctuary.”