An Ottawa professor is making a habit of rescuing bats trapped in the maze of tunnels underneath Carleton University.

Psychology professor Brian Tansley said he typically scoops up the wayward flying mammals with a towel, then takes them outdoors where he sets them free.

Tansley's office is in Carleton's Loeb Building near the Rideau River, where the professor said he believes the bats gather to hunt insects. He said the animals appear to slip into the building when doors are left open.

Tunnels make 'ideal' habitat for bats

Much of Carleton's campus is built above a series of interconnected tunnels.

'They're on death row when they get in here.' - Brian Tansley

Tansley calls the subterranean maze an "ideal" bat habit.

"There's places to hide, so you don't see them unless they're flying"

But once inside the university's labyrinth, the bats are unlikely to find food or water and with their relatively high metabolism, the animals are doomed to die in a short time. 

"They're on death row when they get in here. They're more likely to be killed than they are to be helped."

Once bitten, still tries

The most memorable rescue was his most recent in May, when one of the creatures turned on its rescuer.

"I got him outside and I was kind of throwing him up in the air and just before I threw him he kind of looked at me and nipped my finger."

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Carleton's professor Brian Tansley. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A small scar near the nail on the middle finger of his left hand is still visible from that encounter. 

Tansley went to the hospital and was vaccinated for rabies, a treatment which, while painful, won't discourage him from rescuing bats in the future.

A custodian who declined to identify himself said he and his colleagues also routinely find and rescue bats from Carleton's underground tunnels. He described trapping the animals inside a cardboard box, sliding a lid over the box and then releasing them outside.

'They need a little help'

Ironically, Tansley's area of research is the psychophysics of vision and hearing but he said apart from supervising one undergraduate research project on bat echolocation, he has never focussed on the phenomenon.

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Tansley believes the animals he rescues are little brown bats like this one. ( Joanna Coleman/Handout - The Canadian Press)

Tansley doesn't think the problem of bats getting into the tunnels is so great that the university needs to take action and he said he won't get tired of helping the trapped bats when he finds them.

"It's just that they've got themselves into an inescapable situation that they can't deal with themselves, so they need a little help"