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The Organization for Bat Conservation (OBC) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. For the last 15 years it has been located inside the Cranbrook Institute of Science, where they operated the Bat Zone since 2002 and established an animal sanctuary with 200 nocturnal animals, including many unflighted bats as well as some skunks, owls, and a two-toed sloth.
 
Phil Garofalo, Communications Manager for the Organization for Bat Conservation, says, "Most of our animals come to us injured from other zoos and places that can’t care for them anymore. In their home colony they might have fallen and injured a wing, so they can't get food and the zoo can’t release it in the wild. That's when the zoo steps in and calls us – when the bats need a more individualized touch."
 
Now the Organization for Bat Conservation is getting a brand-new home, and with it more than four times the space.
 
The new space, located at 75 W. Huron in Pontiac, has 10,000 square feet of space (compared to the original Bat Zone's roughly 2,500 square feet), giving the organization significantly more room for the animals as well as for their own offices.
 
Debuting July 1 with a grand opening celebration, the Bat Zone will be open to the public on Saturdays from 10am-5pm and Sundays 12-4pm, and is also available during the week for private parties and school tours.
 
"We're really happy to be part of the urban renewal in the Pontiac community. They have been absolutely wonderful to us," says Garofalo says. "A big factor in our move to Pontiac was that we are launching an urban bat initiative designed to connect urban youth to conservation practices."
 
Pontiac, he says, is the perfect place for the organization to base its headquarters, as they plan on working with youth in Pontiac and Detroit as well as seven other cities across the Midwest during the first phase of the Urban Bat Project's rollout.
 
The Urban Bat Project is a citizen scientist project in which urban youth will collect data on the urban bat population in a number of different cities. Little is known about the urban bat population, but as white nose syndrome, a disease caused by a highly invasive fungus that affects cave-dwelling bats, continues to decimate the North American cave-dwelling bat population, it is becoming imperative to understand more about the city-dwelling bat population.
 
White nose syndrome has killed some 5.7 million bats in the United States and Canada since the fungus, called pseudogymnoascus destructans (or pd), was brought over from Europe in 2006. In some cases there has been 90-100% colony collapse due to the disease, which causes a white growth over the bats' nostrils and leads to sickness and death.
 
"The urban bat population is unaffected by it because they don't go to caves to roost," Garofalo explains. "If the cave-dwelling population starts dying out, the urban bat population would become more robust, and we don't have a lot of data on the urban population."
 
OBC will partner with school districts, local science institutes, and other on-the-ground partners to supply participating youth with tablets or smartphones equipped with bioacoustics monitoring technology from Wildlife Acoustics called Echo Meter Touch. Kids with these devices will be the "scouts" identifying where these urban bats are and more about their behaviors.  
 
Education is a very important component of OBC. "We are one of the only [bat conservation] organizations that specialize in education, where [others are] more focused on policy and conservation. If you see a bat program in a school, it was probably us."
 
The new Bat Zone in Pontiac will have a classroom area, and Garofalo says their long-term hope is to have local businesses and groups, like libraries and nature centers, use their meeting spaces.
 
Check out the grand opening of the new Bat Zone in Pontiac this Saturday, July 1. Admission is only $7, and kids aged two and under are free. 
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