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Bat conservation group to roost in Pontiac

Charles E. Ramirez, The Detroit News

It’s sort of an echo-relocation.

The Organization for Bat Conservation, a group that operates a live animal center designed to teach the public about the flying mammals, which locate objects in their surroundings by reflected sound, is moving.

The group is relocating its Bat Zone quarters at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills to a roomier roost in Pontiac. It plans to host a June 29 media preview and a July 1 grand opening for the public. It held its final tours at Cranbrook last month.

“This move is going to be phenomenal,” said Rob Mies, the nonprofit group’s founder and executive director. “Everyone is really focused and energized right now. We have all these amazing things going on.”

A straw-colored fruit bat snacks on a cucumber at the Organization for Bat Conservation in Pontiac, Mich. on June 12, 2017. The organization recently moved into a new, larger location for their new Bat Zone which will have its grand opening on July 1.

Michigan has nine species of bats, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The webbed-wing mammals are critical to ecosystems in the state and around the world, according to experts. Some species aid in the pollination of trees and flowers while others eat fruit and spread seeds to other areas.

Another benefit: since most of the animals live on a diet of insects, they contribute millions of dollars in pest control to Michigan’s agricultural industry, the DNR said.

However, Michigan’s bat population has been struggling with a loss of habitat and a fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that causes a disease called white-nose syndrome.

The white fungus, which came from Europe, thrives in cold environments where bats hibernate. It also grows on bats’ skin, damaging it and forcing them to frequently wake up from hibernation. Infected bats use up their fat stores before winter ends and starve to death. Mies said it’s estimated the fungus is annually killing off about one million bats in North America.

State officials have identified five species — big brown bats, little brown bats, northern long-eared bats, tri-colored bats and Indiana bats — as the bats in Michigan most susceptible to the disease. Experts predict it could wipe out at least two the state’s bat species in the next decade.

Moving on out

The Organization for Bat Conservation first took flight in 1997 as a small team that offered educational programs featuring live bats to schools, nature centers and museums.

Five years later, the OBC signed a one-year lease for space on Cranbrook’s campus off of Woodward. The group’s bats and other nocturnal animals have called Cranbrook home for the last 15 years.

Mies said the OBC needed to move to a larger cave — a 10,000-square-foot building on west Huron street near Woodward Avenue in Pontiac that once housed a First Federal Bank — because its growth and new projects required more space.

It had 2,000 square-feet of space at Cranbrook, according to Mies. The group had a staff of eight, including Mies, and about 100 bats from around the world when it first took up residence there, he said.

Since then, it’s grown to a staff of 15 with about 20 more volunteers. It has nearly 200 bats in its program as well as owls, flying squirrels and a two-toed sloth. Mies said the growth forced the nonprofit to keep animals and employees in different buildings.

In 2014, the group launched its national Save the Bats campaign, an effort to mobilize Americans to become involved in bat conservation.

Last year, Zack Snyder, the director of Hollywood movies “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Man of Steel,” and “300,” lent his talents and notoriety to the cause. Snyder and his Batman v Superman stars, Ben Affleck and Amy Adams, appeared in a public service announcement for the campaign.

Mies said the group plans to kickoff this year a new urban bat project.

Bats that winter in urban areas are the least affected by white-nose syndrome, but very little is known about those animals, he said.

Under the new initiative, the group will select 10 U.S. cities, including Pontiac, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York and Washington, D.C., to install bat houses, plant bat-friendly gardens and establish citizen-science driven acoustic monitoring programs.

“This is really about finding out where bats live in our cities, where they feed, what we can do to keep them out of human buildings and increase bats’ population,” he said.

The new building the OBC is leasing will allow it to expand its interactive programs, house more animals and give its animals larger enclosures.

It looked at a lot of different places in the region for a new home, but chose the Pontiac building because of its location and new developments that are drawing people and businesses to the city, Mies said.

Still, the group is feeling a little nostalgic about leaving Cranbrook.

“We’ve loved partnering with the Cranbrook Institute of Science for the last 15 years,” he said. “It’s been a big chunk of the time of our organization’s existence and the grounds are beautiful.”

Michael Stafford, Cranbrook’s director, said the institute wishes the bat group well.

After the OBC moves into its new home, Cranbrook will use the nonprofit’s old building for interactive, hands-on educational programs. It will reopen in late summer and the first program will focus on dinosaurs, officials said.

“Cranbrook Institute of Science cherishes both environmental sustainability and education,” he said in a statement. “We fully support the OBC’s mission to educate people about bats and inspire them to become actively involved in conservation. This move will enhance the Bat Zone mission and vision and further inspire its growth.”


On the move

The Organization for Bat Conservation is moving from Cranbrook’s Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills to a new home in Pontiac.

It’s new address is 75 W. Huron Street, Pontiac, MI 48342.

To contact the OBC, call (248) 294-7370 or send an email through its site.

Source: Organization for Bat Conservation