Natliegh goes batty

It is not strange to find Natliegh Strydom cuddling an orphaned bush baby, squirrel, bird, or even a lion cub, but her newest ‘accessories’ are raising some eyebrows.

Natliegh Strydom with a rescued bat.

Natliegh has become a ‘bat mom’, raising and rehabilitating baby bats that have been abandoned.

“Yes, I have gone batty,” she laughs while uncovering the baby bats from their various nooks in a tent in their backyard that she calls the ‘Banshion’ (bat mansion).

Natliegh and husband, Greg, a conservationist and owner of the Hartbeespoort Aquarium, Chameleon Reptile Park and the Makalani Bird Park, are used to raising all sorts of wildlife animal babies, but becoming a ‘bat mom’ is very different.

It all started when a local resident brought Natliegh two bat pups a year ago which she had found on her patio. “I had tried before but could never manage to pull real small bat babies through. I decided to ask for help from a women in Pretoria who has a bat rehabilitation centre and nursery. I managed to raise the two bat pups and when they were ready to fly off, I took them back to Ifafi where they were found. I waited until the bats emerged one evening, held them up and they flew off. It was such a wonderful feeling.”

In November last year, Natalie was contacted by the bat rehabilitation centre and asked if she could assist with increasing calls from Hartbeespoort. “It was actually the perfect time. I was suffering a nasty period of empty nest syndrome and becoming ‘n ‘bat mommy’ seemed the perfect thing to do to fill that void,” she laughs. “I had to learn real quick how to keep these little things alive and create a suitable environment.” Hence the ‘bansion’ in their backyard. They have to learn how to fly, so I had to have a space where they could spread their wings. She is currently looking after four baby Cape serotine bats and a young African yellow bat that is almost ready to be released. And they all get named. Probably not so unusual if you spend so much time with these babies that have to be fed every two hours.

“When they can fly and are ready for release, I take them back to the area they were found. They are family animals and stay with their colony and roost.”

Many people who find an abandoned baby bat make the mistake of removing it. “Weather permitting, the bat pup should be kept in a safe container such as an open shoebox near the site where it was found and the mother will in most cases come and fetch it. Bad weather plays a big part in baby bats falling out of nests.”

Since looking after baby bats, Natliegh has become passionate about these little nocturnal creatures that some people find creepy. “They play such an important role in the ecology. After I have mastered the art of raising bats and learnt as much as I can, I would like to do bat education to let people understand the importance of co-habiting with these amazing animals.”

Some interesting bat facts:
• It has been estimated that bats eat at least one-third of their weight in insects a night, which adds up to 500 to 3 000 bugs a night.
• Bats help with mosquito control.
• Without bats, say goodbye to bananas, avocados and mangoes. Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination.
• Bats are the only flying mammals.
• Like cats, bats clean themselves.