Watching TV on the lounge one night, a text message pinged on my phone.
It was from the Bats Qld Gold Coast rescue hotline.
A flying fox has been injured on the side of the road, it read, along with coordinates to the area.
When the hotline confirmed I was the closest volunteer, I was sent out to rescue the little mite – who had suffered a broken forearm and lacerations – and bring her to my home.
‘There, there. You’re safe now,’ I said, placing her in one of my incubators in the back seat of my car.
The size of a small esky, it’s charged by the cigarette lighter.
In love with animals since I was a little girl, I’d always wanted to help them.
So in 2018, when I was 27, I began my studies to become a vet nurse.
As part of the course, I volunteered at a wildlife sanctuary.
I didn’t know much about bats at the time, but as I learned more about their social personalities and the massive importance they have in our ecosystem, they quickly became my favourite animal.
Though they’re often misconstrued as scary, I knew how sweet and loving they could be.
‘They’re just misunderstood,’ I told my mum, Kerri, then 60.
It was part of my tactic to convince her to let me set up two small cages to house injured bats in the dining room of our home, after signing up to the Bats Qld rescue group.
Though Mum wasn’t sold on the idea at first, I explained that once they had regained their strength, I’d release them back into the wild.
‘They won’t be here forever,’ I reasoned with her.
I also cared for some possums from time to time, rehabilitating them at the wildlife sanctuary, as part of my course, then letting them run free in the wild again.
Before long, Mum had grown so fond of our new guests, she signed up as a volunteer too!
‘They’re so sweet and small,’ she’d say caring for the injured baby bats.
'Eddie was so small, I could cup him in my hands!'
Juggling my cleaning job, study, and my tiny charges, life was busy but happy.
Watching the injured animals thrive while in our care warmed my heart.
Then, in April 2020, I pushed the dining table out of our home and installed our two-metre by two-metre aviary in its place.
‘What the heck!?’ Mum said, when she saw the large enclosure in our dining room.
But in time, she was happy to have half a dozen bats flapping about inside.
In November 2021, I received a call from Currumbin Wildlife Hospital about a wounded premature bat that had likely fallen mid-flight while his mother was carrying him.
He’d suffered abrasions on his wings and was in a bad way.
Named Eddie, he was so small, I could cup him in my hands!
His eyes were closed shut but he was the cutest bat I’d ever laid eyes on.
Taking him home, I placed him safely inside my incubator in a cotton wrap. Every few hours, I’d gently wake him to bottle feed him two millimetres of bat milk formula.
I checked him with my thermometer regularly, as premmies need to maintain the correct temperature.
When he reached newborn size two weeks later, his eyes opened.
‘Hello, boy!’ I said.
It was amazing to see him doing so well.
Placing him into a larger incubator with two other bats, Damir and Bobo, his personality began to shine.
Making best friends with Damir, Eddie would try to wiggle his way out of his cotton wrap and snuggle up with his mate.
'He’d bark soft and sweetly like a newborn pup.'
‘You’re just like brothers!’ I said.
Four weeks later, Eddie was transferred to the large aviary with five other bats. He’d play fight and groom his winged pals, proving to be quite the social baterfly.
He also loved nothing more than to lie on his back and have me rub his belly, much like a dog.
And he’d bark soft and sweetly like a newborn pup.
You’re really a puppy deep down, aren’t you, I’d laugh, patting him.
When Eddie was ready for release in March 2022, it was bittersweet.
Just like every other time I farewell my beloved bats, I’m so proud of his progress, but miss him so very much.
When I walk through the local park at night and can see a colony of bats up in the trees, I often wonder if Eddie is there.
Now, I’ve rescued over 150 bats, taking care of around a dozen at a time.
Caring for my winged friends, it’s given my life more meaning.
Bats may be the underdogs of Australia, but to me they’re at the absolute top!
If you find an ill or injured bat, Rhi’s advice is to call a wildlife rescue centre rather than trying to handle it yourself.