- Sadie Williams
Names: Barry and Maureen Genzlinger
Job: Providing education and rescuing and rehabilitating bats, Vermont Bat Center
Bats hibernate in the winter, but not all of them stay asleep the whole time. That's where Barry and Maureen Genzlinger come in.
Both are former teachers, and Barry used to run a software company designing custom databases. But, since 2012, he and Maureen have been the driving force behind the nonprofit Vermont Bat Center. The home-based rehabilitation facility provides winter housing for big and little brown bats that wake from hibernation early, when it's still too cold for them to survive. The couple also rescues baby bats found during the warmer months.
The Genzlingers' introduction to bats was serendipitous. In the mid-1990s, they found a group of them nestled under the eaves of their house and decided the furry fliers needed a new home.
So they set about building a bat house. That project turned into a business called Chiroptera Cabin Company. Over the ensuing 15 years, the Genzlingers built more than 4,000 bat houses and sold them online. By then, their bat-house biz was starting to get competition, so the couple decided to shift their focus to education and rescue.
Since launching the bat center, the Genzlingers have struck up a partnership with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, whose agents call them when they find bats that need winter care. Barry has developed educational programming, which he and Maureen bring to schools and community groups to raise awareness of the little mammals.
Seven Days caught up with the bat lovers at their home.
SEVEN DAYS: Why did you start doing bat education and rehabilitation?
MAUREEN GENZLINGER: The education stemmed from us finally realizing there was so much misinformation about bats, [and] we decided the best place to start is with kids, and educate them. So, besides making bat houses and raising the children ... we decided that, [since Barry] owns the [software] business, he can close it every once in a while and do bat programs. So that's what he did. He did educational bat programs all over the state with our daughter.
BARRY GENZLINGER: Not just here but in New Hampshire, New York and Pennsylvania.
SD: When you say "misinformation," what kinds of things were you running into?
BG: Well, back in the early and mid-1990s, people thought bats were evil things. Everything they knew about bats they learned from TV and movies. Vampire bats suck your blood; they're horrible things, and they all have rabies.
SD: Do they carry rabies?
BG: Well, so do skunks! Here's a question for you: Are there more cases annually of rabies in cows or in bats?
SD: I don't know!
BG: Rabies in cows!
SD: That's scary. We have so many cows.
BG: Yes. There's just so much misinformation. But, once people got into it, they were fascinated by these things, and to realize that almost one-quarter of the mammal species on this planet are bats.
SD: When did your partnership with Vermont Fish & Wildlife begin?
BG: In 1980-something we started working with them doing surveys and getting out in the field and helping them wherever needed. At some point they said, "We need somebody who, when someone finds a bat in their house in February, we can say [to them], 'We'll get this guy in touch with you and he'll take the bat.'" So they said to us, "Could you please figure out how to take care of bats in the winter?"
MG: And Fish & Wildlife said, "We'll take care of the licensing and issue you all the permits that you need. Can you do it?" We said, "Of course we can do it. We love the bats."
SD: How many do you take care of in the winter?
BG: Last year we overwintered 39. We have a bat cave. [The five we have now] are in there right now, but they're sound asleep. They're in the dark at 45 degrees.
SD: They like it that cold?
BG: When they're hibernating, they need to be soundly asleep, not burning any energy. Their respiration drops to two breaths a minute; their heartbeat goes way down to one or two beats a minute.
MG: When people first call here, they'll say, "A bat fell out of the attic, and I think it's dead." Well, no. Give it about 20 minutes, and you won't think it's dead anymore, because it takes that long to warm up and wake up.
SD: Is white-nose syndrome still an issue?
BG: Oh, yes. The fungus has now gotten into every cave east of the Mississippi River. It's everywhere. So all cave bats — we have five species of cave bats that go into caves to hibernate — they get the fungus on them. When that happens, it makes them itch, [so] they wake up and scratch, then go back to sleep, and wake up and scratch and go back to sleep, and they do that every week. They should not be waking up at all, so they're burning their fat reserve.
We're talking about something that weighs maybe 20 grams, so, by mid-February, their fat reserve is gone. So their body says, It must be spring; I'm going to wake up and fly around and eat bugs. So they go out in the middle of winter and freeze to death. If biologists find them outside the caves, they can bring them to us, and we can take care of them.