The Long Shot: Saving Western Bats


(intense techno music) – Double duty today with
Coke and coffee. (laughs) Long night ahead. We are meeting the
students later at the park, and it’s a great
habitat for the species that we’re looking for,
which is the Yuma myotis. And that Yuma myotis is the one that we’re focusing
on for this project. This species in
particular is thought to, to likely be at risk
of white-nose syndrome. The white-nose syndrome
is being touted as the most catastrophic
wildlife disease to ever hit North America. (intense music) (door closing) (birds chirping and murmuring) So, show of hands
who has rabies shots. Okay, this is great! So that mean you all can,
in theory, handle the bats. So now, how many of you
have handled bats before? (laughing) Okay, okay. So, yeah, and you haven’t
yet, Ann, have you? – Well, I tried to dodge it. (laughing) – Yes, they do bite. – I know, I tried to dodge it. – And that is probably the
thing to remember tonight is that they do bite, but
they have very tiny teeth. So once they bite into you, even though your gut instinct
is gonna be to pull back, that’s the one thing we
have to remember tonight, don’t pull back ’cause you’re
gonna be wearing latex gloves, and their little teeth can
get stuck in the gloves, and they can easily
all break off. So we just be mindful of that. We’ll put a net on this bridge, and then we’re gonna put a net, a triple-high net
actually, past that. We’ll get those two set
up and see how it goes. And sample size, what are
we hoping for tonight? – I don’t know really
know what to expect. – I think 10. – 10 yeah. – 10, okay.
– At least 10. – Yeah, yeah, so we’ll just see. I mean, hopefully
we’ll catch something. That’s all I can say. (intense techno music) (zipping) Okay, great. So white-nose syndrome is
affecting, at this point, the eastern species
most heavily. It was really just spreading
a lot north, south, probably the way that
bats typically move with their seasonal migrations. But suddenly there
is this giant leap of the fungus over
to Washington. There was an
announcement last week of another species
here in the west that has been officially
confirmed with
white-nose syndrome. So we’re basically sitting
at three species right now. One of ’em being the Yuma
Myotis, which is a species that we are focusing our
research on for this project. For those who have not
mist netted before, the goal is to create a pocket. And this is what your
bat’s gonna get caught in. So your bat’s coming along, it hits and plops
down into this pocket and gets tangled, right? So the concept of a mist net is to make just a
tiny bit of pocket. But you don’t want it so big, like look at how
big that pocket is. Now, as the bat’s flying along, he’s probably gonna detect
that ’cause it’s so thick. Okay, so just that fine line between enough pocket,
but not too much. So when white-nose syndrome
was first discovered, it was shocking to
see the devastation because researchers
were actually walking into caves and instead of
being able to count bats like they always have,
now they’re just looking at piles of dead bats,
and in some cases, very few surviving still up in
the ceilings of these caves. We will probably never know how
many really do end up dying. So we’re sort of stuck
now just saying millions. Millions of bats have
died from this fungus. We definitely need
bats in the environment because they are the primary
consumer of nighttime insects. And without bats we
would actually see a massive shift in our
insect populations. They burn a ton of
energy just flying. And yet they can’t
put on a lot of fat like other mammals would,
to let’s say over winter and so on, because then they
would be too fat to fly. And that is what makes
them very susceptible to the white-nose syndrome
fungus, for example. They’re coming into winter
with just enough fat, and if that fungus
irritates them and keeps waking them up
throughout the winter, they will burn through
that fat quickly and die. This is really a race
against the clock. We have a lot of
researchers in North America trying to solve the
white-nose syndrome problem. What we’re doing in the west
is this probiotic project and putting as much
energy into this hoping that we can come up with
a way to prevent it. Because I really don’t
wanna see our bats die. (quiet music) – [Cori] There is one
bat in the trail net. – [Woman] Is the other
one, Nick, over there? – [Nick] Yeah, it’s
about halfway up the net on the other side. Geez, he’s really caught. – [Woman] Yeah. – Yeah, Cori makes it look easy when she’s giving
the demonstration. I was like. it’s not that easy. – [Woman] I can try if you want. – [Nick] Yeah, yeah, you try. – It’s up to you if you want. Oh goodness it’s
even in your mouth. What happened to you? Wait for a second. Okay, as you’ll see
from his long ears, he’s a long-eared bat. So we’re gonna put him in a bag to calm down a little bit. And then, we’ll do a
little bit of tests, and then he’ll just be released. (quiet music) (laughing) – Oh, he’s got quite,
he’s actually got quite worn-off teeth, too. He’s a little oldie-goldie. Actually we should see
if it’s a he or she. But you know what,
all bats do this: Ah. – [Woman] I know, it’s so cute.
– Right, they keep their mouth open like that, as though, you are so ferocious, yes. (laughing) Yeah, but they don’t have a
lot of other defenses, so. I can see that his teeth
are quite worn off. – Oh, they are? – The canines, yeah. So could be 20 years
old, who knows? Yay, good job, everybody! – [Woman] So is
there a difference? When I did it last time we took the biopsies from the tail (murmuring) Yeah. – [Woman 2] I don’t know. (multiple people murmuring) – [Cori] For the repro status… – [Dr. Naowarat Cheeptham]
What is your ID for this one, the first one ID? – [Woman] This one’s
California female, Thirty-six point
one is the form. – [Woman 2] Was it easier? – [Woman] Cori, is there a
way to calm this bat down? – [Cori] The secret is to have
his, his head towards you. – [Woman] Okay, so I
should have him this way. – [Cori] Yeah, you just
get a lot more control over them than you,
’cause your thumb is what’s gonna pin them down. – [Woman] Yeah, okay. – [Cori] Yeah. – [Woman 2] That’s good. – [Woman] Sorry, dude. – [Woman 2] That
number goes there. – [Woman] So nineteen– – [Woman 2] It’s
biting on to my glove. – [Woman] You okay? – [Woman 2] Yeah, yeah, yeah. – [Cori] So we’ve
got fatty acids, we’ve got sebum, we got pH. Now that bat actually can
be released though, right? And we should release
it so he can go feed. She can get feeding. Come on sweetie, go go go. – [Man on Radio] Cori, I
think we have a hoary bat at the first triple net. Leann has a glove, but he’s
pretty scary looking… (laughing) We are kind of trying, but
it’s definitely a hoary bat… Quite big and has
very large teeth… (laughing and murmuring) – Careful, don’t get eaten. (laughing) Okay, I’m coming. (squeaking) – Yeah, this one,
this is a major biter. This bat will make
you bleed for sure. But this is a big brown bat. And not a happy one,
as you can hear. Okay, okay, buddy,
yeah, yeah, yeah, so… – [Woman] Nice, nice job. – [Cori] And it’s a
male. So the females are actually even a little
bit larger than this. – [Man] So cool. – [Cori] I actually don’t
catch a lot of big browns, so that’s pretty exciting. So, we got, ended up
getting 13 bats tonight. We got California myotis,
a long-eared myotis, and a big brown which
took a few good chomps out of some students. (laughing) But then we finally got our
Yuma myotis, which is great. So we got, we have at
least two at this point. We haven’t identified
the last two that are coming in right now. But yeah, overall it’s been
a very successful evening! (upbeat music) So the procedure that we’re
using for this project is we start off in the field and get wing swabs
from free-flying bats. Those swabs then go to
Thompson Rivers University to Ann Cheeptham’s lab,
and her and her students culture what comes
off the bat’s wings, and they isolate
ones that are capable of inhibiting the growth of
the white-nose syndrome fungus. – What’s new today? This research that our
teams are doing right now, no one has done this
kind of research before. Can we use that concept of
probiotics and prebiotics to put, you know, to help
strengthen that immune system in one way or another and
then make them less prone to white-nose syndrome. – There’s the 100
squares with the PD sprayed on to it and
different selections from these plates on here
to see if they are better at inhibiting PD or not. – Wow, this is very good! – That one, yeah. – And full inhibition. – Yeah, full inhibition
right, and so this is good. – Some of them didn’t
do so well, they didn’t, They just didn’t
inhibit it at all. The PD just continued
to grow all over it. – Right. It is exciting, but somehow it
can actually keep you up at, you know, up at night. (laughs) It’s bad, like okay, how’re
we going to deal with this? Even trying to figure
it out, how many cells of probiotic bacteria we
supposed to put on our bats? And how long it’s going to stay? How many times we
need to swab them? So what are we doing here? – I am just checking on
the probiotic bacteria. – So the four strands
that we’re actually using? – Yes, yes. – Okay, perfect, so
these are the four… It would be nice to
have a crystal ball in front of me to see, okay, you know, which
way we should go. What we should do
and however we done, and we actually find
more questions right now, more than answers
to this project. – [Cori] This is a critical
point in our project because the bats will
be in the enclosure for a couple of months
and that allows us to test a couple of things. One, does the probiotic
go on to the bats well using our applicator method? Also then, are the bats
completely healthy with it? And then finally, what’s
the longevity like? So this was a bat that
we captured last night. We’re going to put this
one in with the others so that we can start our
experiment in the next few days. Putting on some probiotic. I’m just going to see if
he wants a little water, but he’s very active
so he might want some. Bats have a really
large wing area. You know, the surface is huge, and they can lose a
lot of water quickly. That’s their biggest
vulnerability, really. These heat waves that we’re
getting more often, for example. Bats are drying out
faster during the day, and we actually get
more reports of people seeing bats flying
during the day, probably out, out
looking for water. So that’s, we always
just make sure they’ve got enough water. And then we will offer
him just little bit food. (joyful music) We’re doing this
in Kamloops first, just as a proof of concept. Then we’re gonna
actually go to Vancouver and put this probiotic
up into the bat boxes because where bats have
the young in the summer is where we would like
to focus our energy. So the plan is
just to cover this with a very light layer of clay, and in that clay then
is the probiotic. So as the bat land and crawl
up, they’ll pick it up, and as they, they crawl out
they’ll pick it up as well. If they do that over
and over and over again, at least twice a night, right? When they leave and
when they come back, for weeks, at the
end of the summer, then they leave to hibernation, hopefully equipped to
fight off that fungus. It’s, in theory, everything
is absolutely perfect. So we’re just, you
know, we’re just hoping. You never know. So far, so good anyways. (bird call and murmuring) (zipping suits) – Hi, Paige. – Hello. – Oh, we know the flyer. (murmuring) (squeaking) – [Woman] So each of
the bats have bands… – [Paige] Six point six grams. – [Woman] …which tell
us which bat they are. – [Paige] So right now
I’m extending the wings, and that’ll give me and idea
of the health of the skin. And it also helps
me assess hydration. – [Man] What we
did is we applied some of the probiotic
on to their bat box. We currently have four
bacterial strains. They all have been known to
inhibit white-nose syndrome. And what we’re looking for is if that bacteria actually
rubbed off onto their wings. And depending on
how much bacteria is actually on their wings, we may have to change our
methods or application or number of bacteria
to actually use. (murmuring) – Come here, little bat. – We had to find out how to apply it
on a large scale, so that it can be implemented. So not just here, but you know, for all the bat
populations, if possible. – [Paige] Yeah, I’d say
it’s slightly dehydrated. We might be good to, to
give him a bit of water. – [Dr. Naowarat Cheeptham]
There are lots of reasons why we need to care for bats. The balance of the ecosystem
itself need to have the agent that keep everything in check. – [Man] The common little
brown or Yuma myotis will eat 3,000 to
5,000 insects a night. And that’s one bat out
of a colony of, say, 200. The insect control
there is extraordinary. They’re not out to
hurt you or anything. They, they’re scared
of you, if anything. They’re really cute,
little, fluffy creatures and really, really cool. (guitar music) – [Cori] This is kind of
a monumental event for us because we’ve developed
the probiotic, we’ve tested on
the captive bats, and now this is our field pilot. And so this is the
day that, you know, we’ve been waiting for
for a very long time to be able to
actually implement it. (chirping) So this is a maternity
roost, and we’re going to be applying some probiotic
up into the bat boxes after the bats
have left tonight. We’re going to be
actually using a harp trap as bats come out of the bat box, just drops them down into
a little catchment bag. Tonight we’re interested
in capturing the bats because we want to get
some baseline wing swabs. As of tomorrow, they
should be starting to incorporate probiotic
on their wings. So it turns out, out
of the four boxes, all the bats are
in one right now. Which is really handy for us because then that means
we can actually spray one of the boxes now
before it gets dark, and that just lets us test
it, make sure, ’cause we… This is a new kind of
attempt at getting them up into a bat box that’s
quite deep, you know. And so we’re just gonna test
what, what nozzle to use and make sure that it gets
good coverage in daylight. After the bats emerge
out of the one bat box that they’re currently
in right now, we will do that box as well. All right, so let’s do…
I’ll pass you the probiotic. You can try one chamber. (spraying) – [Woman] Okay, it’s done. – [Cori] Nice. (peaceful music and murmuring) – [Man] There, the
first one down below. (murmuring) These are all that
myotis, right? – [Cori] Yup, myotis. – [Man] Little brown… (murmuring) (peaceful music and murmuring) – Like, like Cori was saying,
like you scratch her… – So this has been a
really successful night. I mean, we are the first in
North America to do this. For the most part,
I would say this is, it’s a nice closure to the
fact that we have a probiotic that everybody feels
optimistic will help that. But yeah, I think we’re
sort of all hoping that this is actually the beginning of a wide-scale disease
management strategy. (murmuring) The pilot that we’re
doing right now is small. It’s just two maternity
roosts, but it’s very possible that this could scale up. And so the idea is to sort of take on a citizens science
component eventually where we could involve land
owners all over the province to help us put this probiotic
into their bat boxes or attic roosts, for example. I’m really hopeful that this
is going to make a difference to keeping our bats alive
from white-nose syndrome. I guess we just
wait and see, but, but I’m definitely optimistic. (peaceful music) Bats get a bad rep. What I do find is that
when people realize how long-lived they are, when they realize that the bats
flying around their backyard have been coming there may
be for 20, 30, 40 years, and they come back
to the same place, and they feed in the same areas, and they roost in
the same locations as long as those
roosts are there, I think people start
to think of them a little bit
differently and realize, you know, that for instance,
they are not rodents. And, and that, you know,
we really have to protect long-lived mammals because
they can’t bounce back from massive die-offs. (guitar music)

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