Formosan golden bats of Taiwan

Mr. Chang and mascot of the Formosan Golden Bat's Home

Mr. Chang and mascot of the Formosan Golden Bats’ Home

Following 30 hours of travel, we spent our first day recuperating in Taipei, got up early the next morning for a 2.5-hour drive to the Formosan Golden Bats’ Home on the campus of the Sheng-Zheng Elementary School, where we met our host, 43-year-old Heng-Chia Chang. As a teacher, he had noticed beautiful little golden bats (Myotis formosus flavus) roosting in school yard tree foliage.

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When he learned that these bats were rare and declining, he decided to begin a public education campaign on their behalf, beginning at school. Students became fascinated and helped build 120 small bat houses that were put up at the school. Nearly all the houses were used by bats, but not the golden bats. Two other species, Japanese pipistrelles (Pipistrelles abramus) and chestnut bats (Scotophilus kuhlii) almost immediately moved in and began rearing young in them.

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Over the past 15 years hundreds of elementary school children have routinely passed within two meters of occupied bat houses without harm. Sick or lost pups are cared for by trained student volunteers.

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Volunteers checking bat houses for occupany at the Sheng-zheng Elementary School in Taiwan. These houses are nearly 100% occupied, though only about half are used on any given day. These are a unique design. A door at the bottom permits inspection. When closed, there are 4 separate compartments, each 1 and 3/8" wide and grooved on all sides, narrowing to an A-frame top. Bat Houses
Volunteers checking bat houses for occupany at the Sheng-zheng Elementary School in Taiwan. These houses are nearly 100% occupied, though only about half are used on any given day. These are a unique design. A door at the bottom permits inspection. When closed, there are 4 separate compartments, each 1 and 3/8″ wide and grooved on all sides, narrowing to an A-frame top. 

Bat houses are checked daily to study use patterns.

A bat house occupied by three Lesser Asiatic yellow bats (Scotophilus kuhlii) and their pups at the Sheng-zheng Elementary School in Taiwan. Nearly 100% of these houses are occupied, typically by just two to three moms and their pups. They also are frequently used by Japanese pipistrelles (Pipistrellus abramus). Bats move among houses, occupying only about half on any given day. A door at the bottom permits inspection, though it slopes down to the entry for self-cleaning of droppings. When closed, there are 4 separate compartments, each 1 and 3/8″ wide and grooved on all sides, narrowing to an A-frame top. Contructed of a durable hardwood, each weighs less than 6 pounds. Entry crevices are just one inch wide (2.5 cm). Cross cuts on all inner surfaces enable secure footing.

Soon, the entire community became enthusiastic about protecting bats, especially the golden ones, and attracting them is considered good luck. 800 houses built by a local carpenter have been sold through the museum for 37 USD.  Visitors are now using them throughout Taiwan.

By 2009 local citizens decided to support a golden bat museum which has become a well known tourist destination. Approximately 20,000 visitors are attracted each year to learn about bats and their values. There is even an annual festival early in April to celebrate the return of golden bats from their winter hibernation sites in the mountains.

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The Formosan Golden Bats’ Home funded our visit to highlight and photograph its unique bats in collaboration with the Bat Association of Taiwan. When we arrived, an enthusiastic crowd of 70 had gathered to hear Merlin speak about the importance and needs of bats. He also praised Mr. Chang and the community for their outstanding efforts. Our friend Joe Chun-Chia Huang acted as interpreter for Merlin’s talk. Joe is a native of Taiwan who recently returned from obtaining his PhD at Texas Tech University.

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Over the past 10 years, Mr. Chang has observed an 80 percent decline of golden bats at several locations of former abundance. However, those living on the school grounds and in the nearby village appear to be relatively stable, despite the fact that only pipistrelles and chestnut bats are living in the school’s bat houses.

IMG_5749We’ll be documenting golden and other Taiwan bats for the next several days. Photography has been difficult due to almost continuous rain, but it’s finally brightening up!

 

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