By Terry Gardner, Special to the Chicago Tribune
7:20 PM EST, January 15, 2013
Perhaps I'm just drawn to guys with deep beady brown eyes, but I fell for a male fruit bat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They call him Yellow (based on the color of his leg band), and he is the dominant male of the group. Both his eyes and his wingspan impressed me.
Pteropus rodricensis (Rodrigues fruit bats) are 12-inch-tall bats, indigenous to the Island of Rodrigues off the coast of Madagascar. They are nicknamed flying foxes for their pointy ears, long snout and big eyes. And as bats go, they are downright cute, looking a lot like a fox with wings.
But they also are critically endangered, and the Safari Park branch of the world-renowned zoo is doing its part to remedy that, with help from five male and eight female loaner bats from the Bronx and Brookfield zoos.
The bats apparently are doing their part too. Since the visitor bats arrived about a year ago, two babies have joined the brood, one in June and the other in July, according to Peggy Sexton, a supervisor at the park, adding, "They're getting big!"
The bats reach maturity by age 2. Those in the breeding group are 3 to 15 years old. Prospects for more births are unknown, Sexton added.
Visitors are welcome to see the babies, Sexton said. And just so you know, the bats may well stare back, because unlike their sonar-guided cousins, these rely on excellent eyesight.
Lissa McCaffree, one of two primary bat keepers, says flying foxes spend most of their time upside down in trees. When right side up, one of two things can be expected — a female is about to give birth and catch the baby in her wing as it drops — or a bat is about to defecate. McCaffree's advice: Never stand below an upright bat.
That won't be a problem at Safari Park, which has built a 500-square-foot climate-controlled bat house in Nairobi Village. The atmosphere is maintained at 75 degrees with 65 percent humidity — as if San Diego weather weren't good enough already.
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