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Postby Cheryl Jones » Sep 19, 2006 9:54 pm

Downtown Cuero has a problem with the unwanted odor of winged creatures
September 19, 2006 - Posted at 12:00 a.m.
CUERO - When the South Texas sun bakes the downtown Cuero area, take a good deep breath.

Not so pleasant? Blame bat guano.

Thousands of the winged creatures live in downtown Cuero buildings, and have for several years. Each night at dusk there is a rush of wings and a chorus of squeaks as the bats pour out of the downtown buildings to feast on insects in the night air. Most of them exit from cracks in the rear of buildings that face the 100 block of Main Street. The bats rush out dozens at a time, group after group for 30 minutes or more, filling the dimming sky with black whirling dervishes, zigging and zagging in search of an airborne meal.


A local beautification group thinks moving the bats out of the downtown area is a good idea.

Keep Cuero Beautiful wants to relocate the bats by building bat houses at a location away from downtown and enticing the flying mammals to move.

"We are taking a long, hard look at this," said KCB president Ann Hedrick. "There are health issues involved, not to mention the odor. We will have to move them over a period of time. It will be a slow process."

Former Cuero Chamber of Commerce director and KCB member Sara Meyer tells tales of a bat plopping down in the middle of the table during a board of directors meeting in the chamber building, and a youngster chasing a grounded bat down the sidewalk with some senior citizens watching the pursuit with amusement.

Bats on the ground are no laughing matter and are likely to present the greatest health hazards.
"It is important to remind people to never touch a bat," said Meg Goodman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bat specialist. "Bats and humans can coexist peacefully and have done so for years, but it's important to educate people to never handle a bat. Those that are on the ground and easy to pick up are likely to be sick."

Cuero city manager Corlis Riedesel, who has worked for the city since 1976, said, "The bats have enjoyed our downtown area for as long as I have worked for the city. In the past, if we have gotten bats in our city buildings we have tried to determine their entryway and seal it off to prevent re-entry. Each building owner is responsible for their own building."

Main Street building owner Frank Burns said he used deodorant blocks to try and repel the bats from his building, but wasn't sure it was effective. The blocks came in 10-pound net packages and smelled like bubble gum, said Burns.

"We couldn't really get to the area where they were, so we broke them up and threw them up there. I'm not sure if the bats went away or not," said Burns.

KCB would like them to go away, at least from the downtown area. The group wants to bring a bat expert to town, someone like Goodman, to observe the situation and possibly offer solutions.

"We want to address the problem with the community with solutions in mind," said Meyer.

Hedrick added, "We really need a lot of education about bats, both in the schools and in the general public."

A central location for animal lovers to go and watch bats might also become a nature tourism attraction. Thousands of people turn out to watch the large colony of bats in Austin on a regular basis every summer. KCB members can foresee a time when watching Cuero bats might become an attraction, too.

KCB members are attempting to learn as much as possible about the animals and share their newfound knowledge.

Hedrick and Meyer, along with KCB members Renvia Ladner and Dee Sager, visited Bat Conservation International headquarters in Austin earlier this summer. BCI is an Austin-based organization devoted to conservation, education, and research initiatives involving bats and the ecosystems they serve. Hedrick also went to a presentation by Goodman called "The Fascinating World of Bats," in July at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

"It would be great to get the whole community involved in learning more about bats, and working something into the curriculum in our schools is a must," said Hedrick. "The more people know about them, the better we will be able to accomplish the goals of our project ... to safely relocate these bats from downtown."

Bat benefits :bat:

Goodman says bats are important in our ecosystem and are a primary predator of night-flying insects. Mexican free-tailed bats are especially important for keeping crop pests in check. They can eat up to two-thirds of their body weight in insects, mainly costly agricultural pests such as many species of moths. Current research has shown that they can save farmers up to two applications of pesticides per year.

Most bats are valuable allies, well worth protecting, according to BCI. Worldwide, they are primary predators of vast numbers of insect pests that cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually and spread human disease. In the United States, little brown bats often eat mosquitoes and can catch up to 1,200 tiny insects in an hour. An average-sized colony of big brown bats can eat enough cucumber beetles to protect farmers from tens of millions of the beetle's root worm larva each summer. Large colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats eat hundreds of tons of moth pests weekly. Bats play key roles in keeping a wide variety of insect populations in balance.

In addition, bat guano is used as a popular garden fertilizer. Bats are also being studied to see what clues they might hold to aging in humans. Bats have been known to live more than 30 years, a remarkable lifespan among mammals their size.

Bats rank as North America's most rapidly declining and endangered land mammals. Bat populations are threatened because of loss of habitat and environmental pollution. The largest known cause of decline is exaggerated human fear and persecution, according to BCI.

Bat hazards :bat:

Bats do not rank very high among mortality threats to humans, according to BCI. Bat rabies accounts for approximately one human death per year in the United States. Statistically speaking, pets, playground equipment, and sports are far more dangerous than bats.

Prudence and simple precautions can save lives, according to BCI. Careless handling is the primary source of rabies exposure from bats. Rabies virus has not been isolated from bat blood, urine or feces, and there is no evidence of air-borne transmission in buildings. Two cases of aerosol transmission were reported in the 1950s in Texas caves that support very unusual environments. However, no similar cases have occurred since, despite the fact that many thousands of people explore bat caves each year. No such transmission has occurred outside or in buildings. Variances of the rabies virus attributed to bats that commonly live in buildings have been associated with eight human fatalities in U.S. history, according to BCI.

The only other disease of public health concern in the United States is histoplasmosis, which is caused by a fungus that lives in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings, according to BCI. The fungus is rare in dry western climates. It can be present, but is uncommon in dry, hot attics of buildings. Infection is caused by inhalation of air-borne spores in dust enriched by animal droppings. The vast majority of histoplasmosis cases in humans involve no more than flu-like symptoms, though a few individuals may become seriously ill, especially if exposed to large quantities of spore-laden dust. The disease can be avoided by not breathing dust suspected of being enriched by animal feces. Risks from bats are no different from those of birds, according to BCI.

Bats do not transmit the West Nile Virus to people or other animals. :bat:
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Cheryl Jones
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