Oregon Zoo welcomes three rare baby bats

Oregon
Photo by Michael Durham
A five-week-old Rodriguez bat baby is pictured at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oreg.

PORTLAND, Oreg. — There’s more to the Oregon Zoo than just amusement. It’s a place where endangered and rare species are nurtured, cared for and preserved over time. Zookeepers are now tasked with raising three Rodrigues flying fox babies that were recently born at their zoo.

According to a press release sent on the morning of January 21, 2021, the rare bats are native to an island called Rodrigues, which is approx. 900 miles East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. When a cyclone hit the island in 1979, fewer than 100 Rodrigues flying foxes were known to be left alive.

These aren’t your ordinary bats either. The Rodrigues flying fox is closer in size to a prairie dog, according to Zoo officials. It’s said that this species of bat plays a crucial role in the enclosed ecosystem that inhibits their native island.

RELATED: A new year brings big changes for the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter

Conservation efforts began with an English naturalist named Gerald Durrell, who created a breeding colony to save the species. Today, the species’ population is estimated at around 200,000 — A staggering number considering how close they came to extinction.

Now, it’s up to Portland zookeepers like Amy Cutting, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s bats, to maintain the species.

“Each new arrival is significant for this species,” Cutting said. “Forty years ago, Rodrigues flying foxes were at the very brink of extinction. The fact that they’re still around shows how people can make a difference for wildlife.”

RELATED: Advocates ask Richland City Council to fund a new animal shelter

The Oregon Zoo has raised more than 500 of these bats, including the three new arrivals, since 1994.

“Keeping a healthy insurance population in zoos is especially important for this species,” Cutting said. “With so few left and such a limited geographic range, a severe weather event on their island could essentially wipe them out.”

One particular pup has received special care as its mother died mere weeks after it was born. Despite the tragic circumstances, zoo officials say that she’s active, healthy and loves to snack on mashed bananas.

Since the Oregon Zoo’s operations are mostly outdoors, they’re operating Fridays through Mondays, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, the zoo’s “bat cave” is currently closed to the public.

RELATED: Oregon ZooLights adjust for COVID-19 with drive-through event