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Townsend’s Big-eared Bats

While still in the development stages, the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino was found to house a nearly extinct species of bat. In 1996, contract biologist Mitch Firman located the largest (Plecotus Townsendii) Townsend’s Big-eared Bat maternity colony ever found in the province, in the abandoned Mission, and a plan was created to incorporate the roost into the resort.  Winning approval from developers, the 8 ft. x 16 ft. x 6 ft. roost was soundproofed. Heaters, humidifiers and an air conditioner were installed to ensure a suitable environment. Research biologists set up an infrared camera to monitor the bats’ activities. To this day, the Resort operates year-round while supplying and monitoring the habitat for the inhabitants.

Quite easily identified because of its unusually long ears, the Townsend’s Big-eared Bat is about 4 inches (10 cm) long with a wing-spread of about 11 inches (28 cm) The muzzle is naked and black with a pair of large, rather grotesque glandular lumps behind the nostrils. The short, silky coat is pearly grey above and light tan beneath.

The Townsend’s bat is unique in that it’s one of the few bat species regularly found hibernating in B.C. Summer maternity colonies and hibernation sites are usually within a few kilometres of each other.

Townsend’s hibernate from September to May during which time they mate. The sperm is stored all winter in the female reproductive tract, a strategy called delayed fertilization, with ovulation and fertilization occurring in the spring.

Threats to Townsend’s big-eared bats include loss of habitat to land development and the sealing of mine shafts as well as human disturbance. In fact, Townsend’s are so sensitive to human disturbance that females may permanently abandon traditional summer roost. Disturbance at winter hibernating sites can cause energy loss, abandonment of the site and death. Their low reproductive rate means a slow recovery rate after disturbances as well.

The East Kootenay Townsend’s population is estimated at only 500 individuals. A number of their summer and winter roost sites have been located and steps taken to protect them, including the installation of locked gates to prevent human access.  Working alongside Columbia Basin Trust, St. Eugene continues to protect and monitor the activities of the Townsend’s big-eared colony that returns each year.

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