Jenny Maclean founded Tolga Bat Hospital in the Wet Tropics more than 20 years ago to take care of bats paralysed by native ticks. 

    The bat hospital has grown in a sprawling fashion from what was once simply Jenny’s brick home. In the mid-1980s, a localised problem of bats coming into contact with native paralysis ticks was noticed on the Atherton Tablelands, 50km south-west of Cairns. Jenny, now 60, moved to Atherton to start a physiotherapy business shortly after finishing university in Brisbane.

    Normally, Jenny’s team of volunteers deals with about 1200 flying-foxes each year.

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Many of the local spectacled flying-foxes (Pteropus conspicillatusthat come into care have been orphaned by the paralysis tick problem and have to be suckled using enriched milk and bottles. They are then weaned off the bottle using the above licking activated bottles. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Tiny orphaned bats are sometimes comforted with a dummy. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    The enriched formula used to feed baby bats is heated to replicate a mother bat’s milk.

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Each bat is named so that its progress can be logged and tracked. With so many babies growing all the time, the volunteers who take care of them need to coordinate to be on top of their rapid developmental changes and personality quirks.

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are native to Australia, but local scientists theorise that they climb high onto non-native tobacco plants and come into contact with bats that way. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Needy orphaned bats are often comforted by being swaddled and carried around. Sometimes they even cuddle a “sock mother”, which is a heated, stuffed sock about the size of their mother’s torso. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    As they grow into juveniles the orphaned bats like to practice flapping and feeding outside on modified clothes hangers. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Louise O’Brien volunteered in Atherton in November 2012. A volunteer with NSW wildlife rescue service WIRES, Louise was hoping to learn more about bat care and take that knowledge back to her home town of Bathurst. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Ashleigh Johnson is an Atherton local who helps out regularly at the hospital. Her she feeds one of the orphans with a combination of syringe and teat.  

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    A board on the bat hospital nursery tracks the needs of its many patients. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    When a bat is found in the scrub already paralysed, it is quickly assessed for survival potential. It is then either humanely euthanised or given an anti-paralysis shot. Then it’s a waiting game, as the bat is fed juice and the tick poison wears off. Some survive, some suffer organ failure or die of dehydration. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Until the young bats get the hang of it, moving from being hand fed to feeding from the lapping bottles can be a messy affair. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

    Kira travelled all the way from Britain to volunteer at Tolga Bat Hospital in 2012. 

    Photo Credit: Natsumi Penberthy

Gallery: Tolga Bat Hospital

By AG STAFF | April 23, 2014

The Tolga Bat Hospital has grown in a sprawling fashion from what was once simply Jenny Maclean’s brick home. In the mid-1980s, a localised problem of bats coming into contact with native paralysis ticks was noticed on the Atherton Tablelands, 50km south-west of Cairns. Jenny’s team of volunteers deals with about 1200 affected flying-foxes each year. Read the full story in Australian Geographic magazine #120.