Brittany and her dad brought Patch, a spectacled flying fox, into the shelter one day after rescuing him from the clutches of a barbed-wire fence. He is a fruit bat and the first bat of any kind that I’ve been able to look at up close.
The barbs tore the delicate membrane that forms his wings when he struggled to escape. According to Brittany, it was very difficult for her dad to untangle the scared animal from the fence. They think he probably got caught while feeding during the night as flying foxes do not use sonar to navigate.
Spectacled flying foxes are a threatened species in Australia mainly due to the continuous loss of their habitat. They dwell in the trees of the rainforest and eat many of the rainforest fruits and flowers. These animals are essential to the cross-pollination of flora and the diversification of the rainforests.
Tanya and her children are vaccinated against the lyssavirus, a strain of rabies that bats can carry, and have cared for many flying foxes in the past. Unfortunately, because I’m not vaccinated against this disease (even though I have the regular rabies vaccination), I wasn’t allowed to interact with Patch.
With much regret, I had to stand on the sidelines while Tanya fed and cared for Patch every day. As I watched their interaction, it soon became clear that Patch was highly intelligent and seemed eager to know what was going on around him. As he hung upside down, he would twist his body and follow anyone who passed his enclosure. When you stood in front of the cage and spoke to him, he looked at you as if he were listening and comprehending. Patch also had a very unique smell that was overwhelming at first, but I soon grew accustomed to his earthy odor.
Tanya fed Patch a variety of fruit often mixed with fruit juices. His appetite was incredible, especially when he first arrived. Who knows how long he was stuck on the fence unable to eat before he was rescued? I enjoyed watching him devour his food with such gusto. He would extend his long tongue to slurp up the juice as he hung upside down. When he chewed on bits of fruit, pulp and juice would drip out of his mouth and fall all over his face.
But, surprisingly, Patch was very clean and constantly groomed himself throughout the day. He seemed to have help from what I can only describe as bug or spider-like animals that lived in his fur. They came out while he fed and seemed to gather around the spills caught on his face or fur. I can only assume they were part of his grooming regime.
Another extremely entertaining thing about Patch is the mechanics of using the toilet. Unlike when he eats, he apparently cares a great deal about dribbles and spills. To avoid this completely, he grabs the top of the enclosure with his fingers and hangs with his arms above his head. In this position, he is able to use the toilet without soiling himself. When he’s done, he does a little shimmy-shake (just like guys) to make sure everything’s clean, then he flips upside down again and hangs by his feet.
I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I saw this happen because visually it was so amusing to me. After that first instance, I constantly tried to catch him in the act, and he probably thought I was a pervert always hoping to catch him with his pants down.
Although it will take a long time for the holes in Patch’s wings to heal, it will eventually happen and he will be released back into the wild. Tanya says that bats know everyone in their colony and will be on the lookout for their missing member. This will make it easier for him to return to his family when he’s ready to go.