Endangered bats call Army depot in Germany home
April 23, 2009
MIESAU ARMY DEPOT, Germany — Earth Day belonged to the bats Wednesday at this Army ammunition depot, even though most slept right through it.
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s public works department used the day to highlight one of its more unusual jobs – managing the habitat of about several endangered and threatened bat species.
Bats seem to have taken a liking to some of the old ammunition bunkers scattered throughout the forest within a restricted military zone where the Army stores live ammunition.
Of the 13 World War II-era bunkers, three have been converted into a type of bat hotel as part of a joint project between Army public works and local German forestry officials.
After the idea was floated more than 10 years ago that the bunkers might be a good winter hibernation site for the local bat population, the bunkers were modified to attract the animals, said Claudia Weber, a biologist and environmental engineer with USAG-K public works’ environmental management division.
Earth was moved to cover the bunker roofs and cracks were sealed to keep cold, drafty air out. Brick boxes with tight compartments were hung because, as Weber explained, bats like confined spaces.
Before the modifications, no bats were found in these bunkers, Weber said.
When Weber first began counting hibernating bats at the depot in 2005, only one was found. This past year, Weber counted four bats in the winter hibernation sites, which include three bunkers and one underground water tank. That may not sound like a big increase, Weber said, "but for me it was a great result. It shows the area was accepted by bats."
Two bat species discovered using the depot site – the long-eared and nattereri bats – are not very common in the region, Weber said. All bat species across Europe are either endangered or threatened, she added, due to a combination of factors, including deforestation and the formerly widespread use of insecticides.
German federal forest manager Josef Brodner, who works with Weber to improve bat habitat on the depot, placed bat panels made of straw and concrete in the bunkers last summer. So far, there seem to be no takers, but Weber said determining what suits the bats is an ongoing process.
On Wednesday, Weber and Brodner led a small group, that included the USAG-Kaiserslautern commander, Lt. Col. Mechelle B. Hale, into a dark, damp bunker. One bat was sleeping in the brick box.
Weber later introduced the group to two injured bats she keeps because they can’t fly: Maus and Krischan, both belonging to the species known as Leisler’s bats. Leisler’s bats eat up to 80 mealworms per day, she said.
Weber said she hopes her efforts help educate people about bats and erase some common misconceptions.
They’re "nothing to fear," she said. "Forget all about those vampire stories."