Where the Wild Things Heal Ithaca sanctuary specializes in bat care

Victoria Campbell shares her Ithaca home with some unexpected tenants.

Mesh cages line the walls of a sunny back room with windows that let in natural light and views of the woods behind the house. The room is quiet aside from the occasional high-pitched chirp.

Campbell is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the state of New York. She runs Wild Things Sanctuary, specializing in bat care, out of her home. Though Campbell founded the sanctuary in 2008 and has experience with most species native to New York, she began working mainly with bats in 2012 in response to declining populations and a realization of how few rehabilitators worked with them.

“About the time I started rehabilitating animals, the numbers started to decline because of White-nose Syndrome, which is this awful disease that has been killing bats,” Campbell said. “Populations were declining, nobody looked after them and I thought they were kind of cool. I don’t think I know any other animal that provides such a wonderful service for humans but are treated so badly by humans.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, White-nose Syndrome began killing off bats between 2007 and 2008 and has since been responsible for millions of insect-eating bat deaths in 31 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces.

Despite the demand, Wild Things Sanctuary is one of the only facilities of its kind.

“There aren’t a lot of wildlife rehabilitators to begin with. … It wasn’t my goal of being a super unique place, but it’s pretty much one of the only places in the Northeast that just works with bats,” Campbell said.

Nature’s Underdog

Meghan Roblee began volunteering with Wild Things a little over a month ago. She is a licensed veterinary technician who also volunteers with Wildlife Wishing Well, another wildlife sanctuary in Ithaca. Roblee has experience caring for and rehabilitating both domestic and wild animals, but bats are new to her. She became interested in helping them after hearing about Campbell’s work from colleagues at Wildlife Wishing Well.

“I’m definitely the type of person who roots for the underdog,” Roblee said. “We, as a general species of mammal, do not appreciate what they do.”

Bats do a lot for humans. Insect-eating bats control pest populations and prevent the spread of mosquito-borne disease. Fruit-eating bats, common in the southern hemisphere, are pollinators.

Traditional bat fare: worms and insects. Campbell often has to teach her patients how to eat out of bowls since they are so accustomed to hunting midair in the wild.

“If you don’t like bats, if you like not having a ton of mosquitoes, not having a ton of crop pests, then you should try to at least respect bats,” Campbell said. “In the United States alone, they provide up in the 20-billion-dollar range of pest control for our agricultural crops.”

“Full Service” Care

Sick or injured bats require special care. Wild Things takes in bats of all ages all year round, so Campbell’s work can include caring for newborns, healing diseases and injuries, and teaching adults to fly and hunt.

Most causes of bat injury, Campbell said, can be traced back to humans.

Campbell currently has 45 bats in her care, and many are injured from being attacked by domestic pets and getting injured in buildings. One of her newest intakes had breaks in its wing and a missing patch of fur, leading Campbell to believe it had gotten caught in a trap.

One of Campbell's newest patients. The punctures on its wing lead her to believe it was caught in a trap.

“Sometimes you’ll see that they get caught in sticky traps and people just peel them off and throw them outside,” Campbell said.

People from all over the area call Campbell when they find injured bats, and much of her job includes walking people through how to handle the creatures and keep them safe and comfortable before and during transport. Once she gets a bat, Campbell gets to work diagnosing and treating the issue. She looks closely at the animal, scanning for any puncture wounds, bone breakages, bruises and parasites.

“If it does have an injury, I’ll determine what kind of injury, pick what kind of antibiotics to put it on. If it does have a wing-break or something like that, we start it on anti-inflammatories, pain medication, until the wing can be stabilized,” Campbell said.

Roblee went on her first rescue two weeks ago, which required her to drive to an Ithaca resident’s house to pick up and examine an injured bat they had found. She said she was surprised how a once scared and violently defensive bat became so docile after a few days of being cared for.

“The way he was acting straight from the wild was so much different than how they act in Victoria’s facility. Once they’re with Victoria for a few days, they start to realize that you’re not there to hurt them,” Roblee said.

Mammals Just Like Us

One of Campbell's patients rests under blankets.

Campbell said she understands how people see bats as strange, but hopes to de-mystify them and help humans to better appreciate them and their ecological contributions.

“They’re just fuzzy little mammals like all of us,” Campbell said. “They love having friends, they love having cuddle time with their buddies. The mothers are wonderful moms. … It’s really complex relationships and they’re really intelligent creatures.”

Places like Wild Things Sanctuary may offer hope in the midst of looming environmental crises, working to restore synergy between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Campbell said, “It’s really part of our duty as we live more and more in their lands to try and be good neighbors.”

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