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Move over, Gotham City. Boonville has its own bat cave.
Mark Gentry, president of the Warrick County Museum, said that museum volunteers knew that the attic had become a favorite summer roosting spot to some bats, but no one was quite sure the of the scope.
Gentry called John Humes, franchise operator and manager of Critter Control in Evansville, in the fall of 2008 to launch the removal and clean-up process. Humes estimated that there were approximately 1,500 bats in the museum's attic.
"They weren't hurting anyone down here and it is fine for them to be up here on one hand," Humes said. "The other hand is, with all the droppings, anyone who has to go work in that environment, it is unhealthy."
The droppings - called guano - can cause a lung infection that can lead to the deadly histoplasmosis if left untreated. Gentry said that the guano was contained to the attic, though, and he doesn't feel that the general public was at any risk.
"They're pretty much contained in the attic," Gentry said. "If I thought there was a hazard, I'd close this place up in a heartbeat."
When Humes was able to get in to the 6,000 square foot attic, he realized that the process was going to be even more difficult. Some of the resident bats were Indiana Brown Bats - a federally protected endangered species. Killing them could result in time in federal prison.
So, Humes sealed up all the obvious places where a bat could get in and out and used bat valves - devices that allow bats to crawl out, but not back in. When he thought all the bats were gone, he began the clean-up process, which involved removing all the old insulation in addition to the guano.
Soon, though, the bats began reappearing.
"They're very persistent animals," Humes said. "They just don't give up. But, when you figure generations and generations of these animals being born and raised here, that's why they keep coming back. You take every female bat that has been in this attic, she usually has one to two (young) each year. Well, then that young calls this home... It doesn't take long to really get it populated."
The bats' persistency bought them another season in the attic. This spring, though, Humes and Gentry were back at it, doing bat watches at dusk and installing more bat valves in any crevice they could find. Gentry said he believes there are just about 100 left.
Humes said the downfall to bat valves is that the animal is released right back in to the wild.
"Where (are) they going to go? Anywhere they can find," Humes said. "Sometimes, unfortunately, it's right down the road to a neighbor's house. You displace 1,500 bats, they go somewhere."
Contrary to folklore, Humes said bats are very helpful animals.
"Each bat usually goes out every night and pretty much eats two to three times its body weight each night," he said.
Humes said that bats can be a carrier of rabies, but they never get sick from the disease. And, the only way for them to transmit rabies to humans is to bite. But, Humes said, if you don't bother them, they won't bother you.
"Bats have kind of gotten a bad name over the years," he said. "Generally, they won't attack."
The age of the building has played a role in the length of the project - already nearing the two year mark.
It could take as many as three to four years for the bats' cycle of trying to return to the museum to be completely broken. Humes said he won't give up until the last bat has been sealed out. And, his work carries a one year, bat free warranty.
"The longer they stay, the less money I make," he said. "But, I'm sticking through this job."
The situation is costing the museum - already running on a very tight budget - about $30,000. But, through fundraising and donations, the bill is being footed entirely by the museum.
The county isn't out an extra dime.
"We are bearing this," Gentry said. "We're not-for-profit. We get enough to pay our gas bill and our insurance from the county. That's it."
Gentry said that the Warrick County Museum does have a fund set up at local Old National Bank and Peoples Bank branches for anyone who would like to donate.
Credits: By Emily May - Warrick Publishing