NWR Issue r13

Action versus inertia

‘Is that a bat?’ said my partner, as I fumbled with a key to open the front door. He was looking down at a wooden board used to edge our front flowerbed. Although the light was fading fast, a tiny furry bundle of something was definitely hanging by its feet from the ledge. I squatted down and zoomed in. One of its wings was shot to pieces. The thin membrane that would normally cover its wing bones was non-existent. Just a kind of bizarre stalk remained. We stood for a moment unsure of ourselves.

‘Well, it’s not going anywhere with one wing,’ I said dismissively and stepped into the hallway. ‘Besides, it may already be dead.’ It felt like the sensible, adult thing to say. The local and thriving cat community would be likely to find it overnight and that would be that. But deep inside of myself, I knew this was a complete fudge; a mini abandonment no less. This creature, for whatever reason, had found its way to our front garden which now meant it was our responsibility. Dammit.

I’d had mixed success in the past with other injured visitors arriving on our doorstep. Birds mainly. I’d always taken some course of action or made some small effort at intervention. But this time I hesitated. A pipistrelle bat felt like an entirely separate proposition; a completely different question. Perhaps if I slept on it, nature would step in, one way or the other.

Next morning, quite remarkably, the bat was still there, looking even more bedraggled after the previous night’s rain. I set myself to the task of manoeuvring it into a plastic tub and taking it to the relative privacy of the back garden. There it showed the smallest signs of life. And at this point, I confess, I almost wished it hadn’t. A dead bat could be mourned, dealt with, and buried. Case closed. A stunned bat that needed a little nurturing then releasing back into the wild would have been a nicer, life-affirming story. But you don’t get to choose the narrative in these cases. It chooses you.

‘But how do you know it’s almost dead?’ asked the nice wildlife rescue expert that I’d called. It felt like an odd question given its missing wing and feeble movements. She explained that bats can go into a kind of torpor when they get very cold. I needed to get it next to a heat source – a jam jar of hot water would do – and try to give it some liquid, if it came to. I placed the hot water close to the animal and - feeling my Saturday fast slipping away - I waited. And waited some more.

‘It’s moving!’ my partner exclaimed about an hour later. The pipistrelle was now crawling round the tub in an ungainly fashion. At last, I got a good look at its gashed pink flesh, broken bones and completely absent wing membrane. With so many things to contend with, the animal had to be in a lot of pain. Using a cotton bud, I dribbled some water onto its miniature lips. Boy, did it like that! Its tiny tongue lapped up the fluid and seemed to gain energy and strength from it. Wonderful, I thought. It’s responding. But what on earth to do now?

All the while that this most unexpected episode was unfolding, I wondered what I was supposed to be learning from the experience. Were my endeavours as seemingly cruel as having left the animal to its own fate? Had I given it a sense of a second chance that could never be? I mean, without flight, the bat had no way to catch its prey and feed itself. Certain death, surely? Maybe I’d made the wrong decision altogether this time. Perhaps doing nothing would have been more humane. More natural. A second phone call to the wildlife expert was now unavoidable.

She could take it in, she thought. A vet, she said, might put it down. But she was used to receiving injured animals and caring for them. In her voice, I could hear the strength of her compassion for nature. I could hear that she didn’t want me to give up on this apparently lost cause. And it was at this precise moment that I finally signed myself up fully to this escapade. It dawned on me that, in her hands, a one winged bat could receive pain relief and live on comfortably until its natural end. No question. She would see to it, I was sure.

Under the cover of darkness, we met in a deserted superstore car park. Lit only by our car headlights, the woman watched as I revealed the small bat sat in an insulated shoebox.

‘It’s a young one,’ she said. Maybe inexperience was to answer for how the bat had met this particular fate. She stroked its soft fur with her finger and it moved ever so slightly.

Silhouetted by the lights, I wondered about this selfless woman that I’d never met before. She’d driven a good distance, in the dark, in the middle of her weekend to attend to a case that could be a complete waste of her time. For her, all that seemed to matter was the possibility that she might be able to help an animal. This was her reward. Somehow, I couldn’t imagine that she earned a king’s ransom doing this kind of work, but clearly that would never be her motivation. As a small gesture I gave her a cheque donation to her charity. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t much, but maybe enough to keep her patients supplied with food and medications for a while.

You know, I really hadn’t been at all sure at one point. But doing something, it turned out, had been the right thing to do. The bat was now safely in the care of a qualified professional and, because of her, its suffering would be minimised. And I got to drive home feeling like a good outcome for all had been achieved: the wildlife expert got to extend her great skills of care to another animal; the bat would be made much more comfortable; and I no longer had the ultimate survival of this mammal on my conscience.

Yes, maybe when nature casts you as a protagonist in one of its more dramatic stories, the onus is on you to do something. And with this call to action, there’s a chance you’ll learn a thing or two – not only about the natural world around you – but also about yourself. Perhaps this is what I’ll take away from this tale.


Bat. I am as broken as you are.
Incomplete. Beyond repair.
Neither of us can help the other.

Your tiny ears, your eyes, your tongue –
we’re only this close
because something’s wrong.

My crude interventions
cannot rebuild you.

I will stay with you –
but I have to let you go.

C M Buckland is a poet and playwright who is occasionally drawn into wildlife dramas. Each event often prompts a new piece of writing.


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