International Bat Week demystifies the endangered nocturnal mammals

Click to play video 'Bat Week' Bat Week
Community Reporter Shay Galor visits the Peachland Visitor Centre, which houses a colony of 2000 bats in the spring and summer. The centre is celebrating International Bat Week and raising awareness on the devastating effects of White Nose Syndrome, which is decimating the bat population in North America.

Around Halloween, images of blood-thirsty bats are a common sight.

That’s why celebrating International Bat Week from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31 may help unravel some myths about the misunderstood creatures.

Darlene Hartford, nicknamed “Bat Lady,” is the president of the Bat Education and Ecological Protection Society (B.E.E.P.S.) in Peachland. With Halloween just around the corner, she says this is the perfect time to learn all about the benefits of bats.

“B.C. bats all eat insects. It’s an advantage agriculturally,” Hartford said. “We’re using less pesticide, our water is cleaner, our air is cleaner.”

READ MORE: Stressed bats more capable of spreading viruses to humans: study

Hartford and the team at B.E.E.P.S. encourages locals and visitors to the Okanagan to plan a trip to the Peachland Visitor Centre, which houses a colony of about 2,000 bats that live upstairs in the attic during spring and summer.

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“B.E.E.P.S. is a bat society so our moto is that we are to protect habitat and provide education about bats so that people no longer fear them,” Hartford said.

Unfortunately, protecting bats is becoming much more difficult. A disease without a cure is threatening the bat population in North America, already killing millions.

“White Nose Syndrome is a fungus affecting bats while they’re hibernating,” said Rachel Truant, who sits on the board of directors at B.E.E.P.S. “They get it in caves. It grows on them and it causes them to wake up while they’re hibernating, and when they wake up in the middle of winter, there’s no bugs for them to eat so they die.”

Over half the bat species in B.C. are considered at risk because of White Nose Syndrome. In North America, 33 states and seven provinces in the United States and Canada have seen their bat populations decimated.

“It comes from hikers that go into caves, so if they have it on their boots or their clothing and they track it into a cave, the fungus will spread,” Truant said. “We’re asking hikers to sterilize their gear and their boots when they go from cave to cave.”

READ MORE: Taking a road trip? B.C. wants you to check for hitchhiking bats

There are lots of other ways to get involved, including building bat houses around the area. Hartford recommends visiting the B.E.E.P.S. website to get floor plans as well as specific instructions on mounting the houses.

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Those wishing to get involved can also Adopt-A-Bat. The program is a one-year adoption that includes a certificate, updates on the life cycle of the bat, special emails and facts, a fun gift and more.

The visitor centre is open year-round and has free admission. There is a live feed during the spring and summer months, showing the attic and the bat colony that lives there.

There is also a five kilometre bat house interpretive trail around the area that visitors can follow, with eight bat houses displayed along with learning guides.