BAR HARBOR — When a young bat tried to hang from a house where vinyl siding was being installed recently, it was accidentally covered in the adhesive used for the siding.
The contractor rushed it to Acadia Wildlife Foundation in Town Hill.
The animal rehabilitation center is seeking $10,000 to build a flight cage for the increasing number of bats coming under its care. Bat populations across the northeast have been decimated by white-nose syndrome, an infection that affects the animals’ muzzles, ears and wings.
Ann Rivers has been the director of Acadia Wildlife since 1994 and rehabilitates about 250 animals a year, she said. Her animals are mostly bats, turtles and birds, including a bald eagle with an injured wing.
“For me, teaching people with rehab as the basis is the best way to teach,” Rivers said.
Acadia Wildlife is one of two places in Maine that rehabilitates bats, the other being Avian Haven in Freedom. The public is becoming more mindful of bats and their positive aspects rather than their spooky stereotypes, Rivers said.
“More and more people are becoming aware,” she said. “We need [bats], they’re incredibly useful to us, and [more people are] open to the idea of helping them.”
Bats are useful for plants as pollinators. With their insectivorous diet, the National Park Service estimates bats provide “more than $3.7 billion worth of pest control each year.”
White-nose syndrome is a fungal infection. Experts think it arrived in New York from Europe in 2006, carried on spelunking equipment.
“The spores of the fungus are very sticky,” Rivers said. “The bats here were completely naïve to it.”
The fungus traveled quickly among North American bat populations. Rivers said the fungus dehydrates them and makes them itchy. The itching causes bats to wake up early in hibernation, and then they have no food to eat.
Rivers remembers the first couple of cases she saw in Maine.
“It was like September and October,” she said. “I got bats in where the wing membrane looked like dried leaves, and within an hour, they died.”
Rivers started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the bat project. As of Oct. 9, they have raised $1,250 from 20 donations. There are currently six healthy male “big brown bats” at the center and 25 more that are being rehabilitated. Rivers foresees an influx in bats coming in, which prompted the flight cage project.
Acadia Wildlife relies on donations, and Rivers has not taken a salary this year.
“We basically don’t have enough money to survive at any moment in time,” Rivers said. “I have to keep the doors open; I’m doing the Facebook separately from our regular donors.”
Rivers said that the bat house would be the first in Maine. The octagonal structure would be around 7 feet high and 20 feet across. It would be heated at the top for hibernation and could feature a bat house on top.
Rivers has been posting a bat fact daily on Facebook to promote the fundraiser. An open house is planned for Saturday, Oct. 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. where visitors can learn more about bats and other animals at the Acadia Wildlife facility.