200,000 bats face eviction if TDCJ building is demolished

The abandoned building across from the Walls Unit in Huntsville is currently home to more than 200,000 bats, but authorities at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) have recently announced their intention of tearing down the building and relocating the bats.

John Hurt, the director at the TDCJ Public Information Office said their plan was to move them to a roost designed for their presence.

Everyone wants to see the bats relocated before any demolition is started on the building, Hurt said. Its possible that the Texas Department of Transportation could build overpasses specifically designed for bat roosts like the bridges in Austin or the city could build structures for the bats to move into.

Professor of biology Monte Thies, Ph. D, said the new bat roosts would have to be in place for at least two to three years before the building could be torn down.

Building a series of alternative roosts is the best option should the prison system actually take the building down, but those alternative roosts really need to be in place at least two to three years prior to demolition so the bats have time to find and start using them, Thies said. . . . If it was torn down, bats would look for any other structures suitable to roost in, which would include any number of buildings in town such as offices, campus buildings, churches, etc.

David Zeller, the city horticulturist for Huntsville, is one of the citizens concerned with the bats safety and has been monitoring the situation in order to protect the bats.

At this time, we are just trying to get information out to tell people about the situation so they can make an informed decision, Zeller said. We have been working with people from Austin and Bat Conservation International so we can make sure the building will not be torn down without any preparations for the bats.

Hurt agreed with the idea of relocating the bats, not only for the bats benefit, but also for the health of the people in Huntsville.

The bats eat tons of mosquitos and other insects every night, Hurt said. Theyre not a nuisance to people, theyre a help. The benefits far outweigh the costs. And the concern over rabies is unwarranted since there are no more rabies cases for these bats than any other animal.

Thies said that the bats in the abandoned building are Brazilian free-tailed bats that migrate during winter and eats only insects.

They eat as much as one-fourth to half their body weight in insects every night they forage, which isnt every night, according to Thies.

The bats come back in April and depending on weather conditions fly around dusk, according to Thies.
The bats have been in the building since 1997.

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