Earth Day is right around the corner. This month, the kids and I got into the Earth Day spirit by visiting the Bat Zone in Bloomfield Hills where we learned first-hand about wildlife and picked up easy ways we, as a family, can protect our environment.
Most of us don’t get the chance to see animals of the night very often. When we do, the animals typically move so quickly that we aren’t able to see them easily in the dark. What a pity! Nighttime animals are some of the most interesting, yet misunderstood, wild animals.
Tucked away on the Cranbook campus is a wildlife sanctuary home to a whole group of nocturnal animals. At the Bat Zone, a facility operated by the Organization for Bat Conservation, you can take a tour of the building that houses more than 150 bats from around the world as well as owls, skunks, flying squirrels and a two-toed sloth.
Tours run every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. and every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and are perfect for kids ages four and up. After buying tickets at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, we began our tour by traveling down a path behind the Institute down to the Bat Zone. More than just a chance to take a peek at the animals, the tour includes a chance to ask questions about the animals and how they live as well as to learn gentle lessons on ways kids and adults can help take care of the environment that we share with the animals.
The kids’ favorite part was seeing the Kamilah, a Malayan Flying Fox. With a six-foot wingspan, the Malayan Flying Fox is the largest bat found in the world. Kamilah shares space with other Flying Foxes, all of which eat fruit. In the wild, these fruit-eating bats help the environment by spreading seeds as they fly. You would have to travel far from Michigan, though, to get another chance to see these large bats. In Michigan, and most of the U.S., the bats you see in the backyard are much smaller. Michigan bats are insect eaters, not fruit eaters, since bugs are what bats can find here year-round. Finally, we saw the Vampire bats. The Vampire bats are the only bats that drink blood. Fortunately for us, they don’t really like human blood. They prefer the blood of cows and other farm animals and are good at feeding without the other animal even knowing it’s happening.
After seeing the bats, we had a chance to learn about the other animals of the night. We learned that skunks are no match for owls, who have no sense of smell. We also learned that flying squirrels actually glide, not fly. At the end, we learned that sloths only go to the bathroom once a week!
As our tour wrapped up, our guide talked about why human beings rely on these animals and why it’s important we do what we can to protect their habitats. Much of the habitat that the animals need to survive is under threat from climate change and development. We now know that we can do our part in making the environment safer for these animals by doing things like putting up bat houses or owl boxes in our backyards, planting native Michigan plants in our gardens, and teaching others about the importance of wildlife.
All of the animals at the Bat Zone are not able to return to the wild. The Organization for Bat Conservation cares for these animals, bringing them around the country to to schools, museums and science centers to teach people about the animals and share ways to protect them. For more information about the organization, visit www.batconservation.org.