Amanda Lollar watched a passerby glance in disgust at an injured bat lying on the sidewalk in Mineral Wells, Texas (pop. 16,946). At first, she also was a bit repelled, but the sight of the small animal wilting under the hot sun compelled her to take action.
Lollar gently scooted the bat onto a newspaper with her shoe and took it to the storeroom of her furniture store to die peacefully. Despite the bleak outlook, she began caring for the small creature using a library book as her lone guide. Though she initially was concerned that the bat may have had rabies, Lollar learned that bats seldom carry the disease. After a week it was obvious that her rescued pet, a Mexican free-tailed she named Sunshine, would live.
“When I found Sunshine in 1989 I had to know more, and I learned that everything I thought about bats was wrong,” says Lollar, 51. “I realized there’s so little out there on how to help an injured or orphaned bat.”
Helping Sunshine illuminated Lollar’s purpose, inspiring her to establish a wild bat sanctuary in Mineral Wells and found Bat World, the only organization on the planet that focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation and release of wild bats.
Creating a sanctuary
In the years following Sunshine’s rescue, Lollar began observing bats in downtown Mineral Wells and discovered there were about 20 buildings serving as roosts for Mexican free-tailed bats during the spring, summer and fall. A two-story building on First Avenue had housed bats in the space between its ceiling tiles and roof for about 40 years.
The second story had been empty for decades when the building’s owner allowed Lollar to regularly visit and observe the resident bat colony. “I realized there was so much to learn there because you could get an up-close view,” says Lollar, who was disappointed when the owner wanted to exterminate the bats and put the building up for sale in 1992.
In response, Lollar began selling her belongings and borrowing money. She scraped together $20,000 and purchased the building in 1993 to save the bats, and founded the non-profit organization Bat World the following year.
“I have no personal items now, just my clothes and my bedroom suite,” Lollar says. “I sold everything to keep the organization going, but when you find a cause you love that dearly, anyone would do it.”
Ownership of the building eventually was transferred to the organization, and Lollar and a few volunteers began cleaning out the building and transforming the second floor into a wild bat sanctuary.
They removed about 6,000 pounds of guano (bat droppings) from the building and installed a new roof. Her crew also removed the ceiling so bats had access to the second floor and hung netting to give them additional space to roost, while placing padding under the nursery colony to protect any falling bat pups. Lollar also improved the building’s ventilation and installed catwalks along one wall for observation and the rescue of injured or orphaned bats.
The renovation has increased the colony from about 20,000 bats to almost 50,000, and Lollar believes that some have elected to roost in the building instead of seeking out other business establishments in Mineral Wells. She estimates that the city’s downtown area is home to 100,000 to 150,000 bats during the summer.
Benefits of bats
Nearly a block from the sanctuary is Bat World headquarters, which serves as an education facility, office space and bat rehabilitation center. Though the sanctuary isn’t open to the public, visitors such as schoolchildren often tour the headquarters to see several species of live bats.
Kindergarten teacher Falicia Bell takes her Forestburg Elementary School class on a field trip to Bat World nearly every year. Bell, 41, has been curious about bats since she was a little girl, and says the trip to Bat World allows her students to better understand the benefits of the winged mammals.
“It gives kids the opportunity to see the good side of something they’ve been scared of their whole lives,” says Bell, whose students often are so inspired by the field trip that they build bat houses. “I’m just hoping the kids will learn not to be scared of something just because it’s different.”
In addition to educating youngsters, the Bat World facility offers Lollar a place to nurse injured and orphaned bats as well as care for bats that are retired from zoos, laboratories and educational programs. She often spends 12 hours a day caring for 135 bats, some of which are non-releasable and will live out their lives at Bat World.
Lollar’s expertise has been an asset to local business owners, who call her when bats are found in their buildings. Joan Blazer, owner of Mineral Wells Office Supply, was terrified when she found the first bat in her building, but now she safely captures the bats and waits for Lollar to retrieve them.
Misconceptions about bats are due in large part to Halloween lore that presents them as scary, blood-sucking creatures that carry rabies. In reality, less than one-half of 1 percent of bats contracts rabies.
“We grew up with the movies where they were stuck to your neck, but now I know not to have that horrible fear,” Blazer, 76, says. “I know they’re beneficial . . . and a necessity to keep the bugs down.”
In fact, bats in the United States eat millions of tons of insects each year, helping farmers reduce crop losses. Fruit bats also play an indirect role in the development of more than 450 commercial products by dispersing seeds and pollinating plants from which many products, such as food, fiber, dyes and timber, are derived.
“I’ve always loved the underdog,” Lollar says, “and bats define underdog. They’re the least appreciated mammal on the face of the Earth.”
Today, Bat World has grown to include 17 rescue centers throughout the United States that are funded by private donations and run by volunteers. The organization participates in marking and behavioral studies, and biologists from around the world have visited the Mineral Wells sanctuary and Bat World headquarters.
Blazer attributes her appreciation of bats to Lollar. “Amanda is personally concerned with each bat in her care. She’s so fastidious and takes good care of them. She’s really an ecologist at heart,” she says.