TPWD Works Alongside TDCJ to Facilitate Safe Movement of Large Bat Colony

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HUNTSVILLE – To address concerns about the welfare of a large colony of free-tailed bats in a warehouse operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is working alongside TDCJ staff to develop a safe, slow, and progressive movement (exclusion) of the bats from the building. The exclusion effort will help to minimize potential human-bat conflict.

The bat colony has been present in the warehouse since 1997 and has since grown to be one of the largest urban bat colonies in the state, with an estimated 750,000 bats. The bats use this structure as a maternity roost, migratory stopover, and hibernation site. Each night, the bats leave the roost to feed on insects high above Huntsville, sometimes traveling up to 100 miles in search of food.

TDCJ has determined that the cotton warehouse where the colony resides needs to be demolished due to multiple occupational health concerns and concerns about the structural integrity of the building. If proactive measures to demolish the building aren’t taken, the building could collapse suddenly.

The bat exclusion effort will occur in two phases and will primarily take place during the times of year when bats are mobile and therefore not roosting for long periods of time in the warehouse. Additionally, eight bat houses have been constructed and will be maintained to provide a place for the bats to relocate once exclusion efforts begin. It is hoped that the bat houses will keep the bats from relocating in other buildings throughout the area. Input from bat experts, veterinarians, advocacy groups and stakeholders provided to date and throughout this process will be considered.

The movement of bats from an established roost may bring about potential human health concerns for the workers and the surrounding community. Contact with bats and their guano can result in disease risks such as histoplasmosis and rabies. As a result, TPWD and TDCJ are working closely with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) for public health guidance.

If citizens in the area find dead or live bats, it’s extremely important that they do not handle the bats. The best course of action is to leave the bat alone and, if the downed bat is still alive, to contact a rehabilitator. A list of wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the TPWD website as well as on the Bat World Sanctuary website. For additional questions about bats, citizens can contact a TPWD biologist in their county.

Residents who are hoping to support bat conservation efforts through donations or volunteer opportunities are encouraged to contact Bat Conservation International or a wildlife rehabilitator.