According to Augustana students, Gotham City’s caped crusader has relocated to East Hall. An increased bat presence this semester has earned the building a new nickname: the bat cave.
Director of Campus Safety Rick Tupper said the average annual count of bat reports on campus is between seven and eight.
“I know for certain there have been seven,” East Hall director Amanda Strenge said of these first four weeks of class alone.
So far, Strenge has been working to see the building rid of the furry creatures.
“I think that having bats where people live is a public health issue and a serious pest control issue,” she said.
In order to eliminate the bat problem, the entire building would have to be sealed. Strenge said the professional estimate given to do that was $12,700.
Associate director of campus life Whitney Brown said that a professional came to assess the building, and there has already been some sealing and maintenance done.
“Areas where bats may be entering have been taken care of,” Brown said, adding that the professional did not find “any major areas of concern” or an infestation.
Senior Brianna Sejnoha has concerns of her own.
“I don’t feel necessarily good about it,” she said. “They’re potentially dangerous pests that need to be dealt with.”
State epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger cites statistics that substantiate Sejnoha’s worry.
On the concern list, “rabies is number one,” Kightlinger said.
So far in South Dakota, as of the end of August, there have been 114 bats tested for rabies. There were three bats that tested positive, and all three were from Minnehaha County. Anyone who wakes up with a bat in his or her bed or room should have the bat tested for rabies, something that can be done by either Animal Control or the State Department of Health.
To prevent bats from roosting in East Hall, the housekeeping staff purchased an ultrasonic sound machine and put it on top of the vending machines in the lobby, Brown said. The machine gives off a type of white noise that is very uncomfortable for bats. It also emits some noise that humans can hear as well, so the hum of the vending machines was used to neutralize it.
In addition, an increase in bat sightings this time of year has a natural explanation.
“The pups are learning how to forage for themselves,” Kightlinger said, which means sometimes, bats are winding up in places that are less than ideal.
And when they wind up in campus buildings, including the newly dubbed “bat cave,” Campus Safety officers are the ones to respond. They come wearing gloves and bearing tennis rackets, Tupper said.
“Bats are a protected species,” Strenge said. “Therefore, you cannot kill them. And if they are in your place of residence, you just need to release them.”
However, “the challenge is to catch them,” Tupper said. According to Tupper, officers try to catch the bats by placing sacks or towels over their heads, wrapping them up and releasing them outside.
The tennis rackets, then, are used to swat the bats out of the air in order to remove them from the premises.
“You can’t just grab a bat,” Tupper said. However, he said, “It is a likelihood that they could be killed by the tennis racket.”
Sejnoha and senior Matt Thompson both witnessed bats being immobilized in this manner and then taken outside. In Sejnoha’s case, the bat was too high up to catch, flying out of reach. She does not consider these encounters to be pleasant.
“It’s kind of freaky when you walk out into the hallway and there’s just a bat flying at your face,” Sejnoha said. This has happened to her twice so far.
Strenge said it is better to be preventative when dealing with situations like these. Both she and Sejnoha mentioned the repercussions of neglecting to act.
“I feel like it’s a liability to have a known problem—I know it’s been going on for years—and to not do anything about it,” Sejnoha said.
However, Strenge said the college has been making strides.
“There have been a lot of good movements already being done,” Strenge said, citing the ultrasonic frequency device as a starting place.
“We want to make sure that our buildings are safe and comfortable for students,” Brown said.
At the end of the day, Sejnoha says, the bats have got to go.
“It’s just another thing for us as students to worry about,” she said. “It adds a little more psychological stress that we don’t need to deal with.”
Thompson looks at it in a slightly different way.
“I want there to be positive change on campus, but I kind of like the adventure of living with bats,” he said