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August 18, 2008

Detroit Free Press

Some Michigan residents making the talk-show circuit of late are causing the audiences to shriek and shudder.

Maybe it's their pointy wings and sharp little teeth.

The Organization for Bat Conservation, created by a pair of graduate students at Eastern Michigan University in 2000 and now based at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, is gaining national attention for its work in teaching people the value and unique qualities of bats.

Since its inception, the organization's live bats and their handlers have appeared on "Martha Stewart," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," a National Geographic special and "Today." In October, organization founder Rob Mies presented bats on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" as part of a Halloween special.

But the celebrity bats are getting plenty of local play as well, thanks to the nonprofit's growing outreach program. The organization's five full-time education specialists travel throughout the region, bringing live bats into schools, libraries and nature centers. They now make more than 100 such presentations a year.

Dave Kugler, owner of Ortonville-based Critter Catchers, donated $1,000 last month to help offset the cost of presenting live bat shows to the community. Such programs range from $175 to $500, plus the cost of traveling, a tough sell for groups and schools struggling financially.

"I really think it helps dispel some of the myths around bats: that they get stuck in your hair, that they will suck your blood," said Kugler, who has a biology degree from Oakland University. His business, which retrieves wild animals from homes, gets several hundred calls a year from frantic people with bats in their houses.

"Right now, we're really busy all day long with juvenile bats flying around. They're like a teenager with a sports car; they're learning to fly and they get into trouble," Kugler said. "We just want people to understand that they are very valuable and that they should not be harmed."

In Michigan, one big brown bat, one of the most common types, will eat up to 5,000 mosquitoes in one night.

"In North America they are the main controllers of mosquitoes and agricultural pests," said Dawn Vezina, an education specialist for the bat conservation organization. "And they're important pollinators."

In fact, bats help make margaritas, in a sense. They pollinate the agave plant.

"And without agaves, we wouldn't have tequila," Vezina said.

During the presentations, children get to see the bats up close. Some bats will spread their wings in exchange for a piece of fruit. The friendly exchange helps dispel the notion that bats are spooky and creepy, Vezina said.

"What we find is that children are usually not afraid, but adults are," Vezina said.

Contact L.L. BRASIER

Critter Catchers, Inc.
P.O. Box 312, Lake Orion, MI 48361
(248) 432-2712

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