We have bats?
That's the common reaction from people living in Taupō hearing that pekapeka-tou-roa — long-tailed bats — have been detected in a number of forested places in the Taupō district.
Wildlands senior ecologist Dr Kerry Borkin works from home in Taupō and she says that New Zealanders are generally unaware of the presence of bats.
"Lots of people that notice bats are from overseas, because they are used to seeing them."
Recently Kerry was awarded a QEII Technician's Study Award, a professional development scholarship so she can learn more about our bats for her own professional development, and also so she can bring knowledge to New Zealand that will benefit us all. She is using the scholarship to learn how bats are managed in urban areas in Australia, and to trial some of the techniques to manage and protect bats found in New Zealand.
As part of her scholarship she toured an innovative bat restoration project where artificial roost structures known as bat boxes were installed, went to a bat rescue centre where injured bats are rehabilitated, and visited a 'flight centre' — a sort of bat aviary where injured bats can practice flying while recuperating. On her next trip she is going to Melbourne for a few days to help out at the world's longest-running bat box installation project.
She says that a big part of her learning is about how to educate New Zealanders and visiting tourists about bats, saying that bats are either loved or hated in Australia and that popular fiction has given bats a bad reputation.
"In Australia the bat roosts smell [offensive to humans] and there is a fear of bats transmitting diseases to humans. We don't have those viruses to fear from the bats found in New Zealand."
Kerry says that our bats are cute and they are not aggressive and are generally just going about their own business.
"But they do need us to look after them."
Protecting our bats is a full time job for Kerry, and she consults for clients from Northland to Fiordland, generally being called in to give expert opinion when a resource consent application conflicts with a bat habitat.
She also does community work. Last summer bat boxes were installed in Hamilton by Project Echo and Kerry was involved in catching pekapeka-tou-roa and releasing them with transmitters so they could see where they are flying to at night.
"We didn't really know how well the bat boxes would go in Hamilton. We were delighted to find they were working. I hope I can take what works in Australia, come up with a good bat box design and set up a trial in New Zealand."
Pekapeka-tou-roa were reclassified in this year as being Nationally Critical. Kerry has detected pekapeka-tou-roa near Wairakei Village, in Opepe Scenic and Historic Reserve, in the forest around Mt Tauhara, at the Tongariro Trout Centre National Trout Centre, at the Turangi Golf Course, and quite possibly in other forested areas.