Wanted: New home for one of B.C.'s biggest bat colonies

Nature-lovers are seeking to delay the demolition of a building used as a maternity roost by a giant colony of nearly 2,000 bats in Kitimat. One solution? Build bat condos, says biologist.

Nature-lovers seek to delay demolition of building used by nearly 2,000 bats in Kitimat

More than 1,000 brown bats are living in a condemned building in Kitimat, a major find at a time when North American bat populations are declining due to a fungal disease known as white nose syndrome. (Getty Images/Flickr Flash)

Nature-lovers are trying to delay the demolition of a building used as a maternity roost by a giant colony of nearly 2,000 bats in Kitimat. 

The recently-discovered colony is believed to be one of the largest in the province, making it ecologically significant, according to Kitimat Valley Naturalists director Walter Thorne. 
Brown bats, such as those found in Kitimat, roost close together so hundreds can share a small space. (Community Bat Program of B.C./G. Hucul)

"Bats have got a critical role in the environment," he said, noting that one bat can eat hundreds of insects in a single night. "Their contribution to ecology, to world health is enormous." 

However, the bats are living in an old cadets building, which is scheduled for demolition this year.

Thorne is hoping to delay the destruction until an alternate living arrangement for the bats can be found.

Disease kills millions of bats

The discovery of the colony comes at a time when researchers are taking an interest in preserving bat populations in North America.

A fungal disease known as white nose syndrome has killed millions of bats in the east and is advancing toward British Columbia.

White nose syndrome is fatal to most of the bats exposed to it. (Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation/AP)

Mandy Kellner, a biologist and coordinator of the B.C. Community Bat Project, said it's important not to disturb the Kitimat bats because it appears to be a maternity colony — a roost where bats raise their young.

"They reproduce really slowly," she explained. "Bats will live 20 to 40 years and they're only having one pup a year, or no pups if the conditions aren't good." 

The best bet, she said, would be to wait until winter in the hopes the bats move somewhere else to hibernate, allowing the building to be destroyed without any loss of life.

Demolition delayed

The Kitimat Valley Naturalists have been counting bats living in the Kitimat cadet hall, slated for destruction later this year. (Walter Thorne/Kitimat Valley Naturalists)

The District of Kitimat has agreed to delay the demolition until at least November, and it appears the bats are moving on as the weather gets colder.

Thorne said volunteers counted nearly 2,000 bats in the roost earlier this year, while a more recent estimate placed the number closer to 700.

However, he warned that waiting to destroy the building won't be enough.

"If you destroy their habitat, you have to have compensation for them," he said. "For springtime, when they arrive again in the community, something's got to be in place for them."

Thorne and Kellner both said the ideal solution would be "bat condos," large boxes on stilts that can shelter hundreds of bats at a time.

Thorne is working with the District of Kitimat in the hopes that condos can be put up on or near the site of their current roost.

He said he doesn't want anything to happen until plans are in place and the cadets building is empty of bats.

"This is a really significant find."


To hear the full story, click on the audio labeled: One of B.C.'s biggest bat colonies needs a new home.

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.

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